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Back to Symposium 2008

Dietary Protein and Bone Health

Jane E. Kerstetter, PhD, RD

Associate Professor, Department of Allied Health Sciences University of Connecticut

Bone is a dynamic tissue that changes throughout life, with peak bone mass attained by 30-40 years of age. Loss of bone with advancing age is a universal phenomenon in both women and men.

Because nutrition is well known to play a key role in skeletal health, it is very important for both primary (during childhood) and secondary (adulthood) prevention of osteoporosis. While the roles of calcium and vitamin D are well recognized in this regard, the impact of dietary protein on bone health is less well understood. The traditional hypothesis is that high-protein diets are detrimental to bone because they increase urinary calcium, generally believed to be due to the loss of calcium from bone. However, most cross-sectional studies with bone mineral density or rates of bone loss as the principal outcome indicate that high-protein diets are associated with higher (not lower) bone mineral density and slower (not faster) rates of bone loss.

Three recent diet-controlled, isotopic calcium studies1-3 showed no net loss of calcium from bone in humans following high-protein diets. In one of these studies, our own research group showed that a high-protein diet increased urinary calcium, not via losses of calcium from bone, but by increasing intestinal calcium absorption. Therefore, strong data are emerging showing that a high-protein diet is actually beneficial to the skeleton, whereas adults who normally consume a moderately low-protein diet are at risk for accelerated bone loss. This presentation will summarize the latest research on the impact of dietary protein on the skeleton, the hypothesis being that a high-protein diet has beneficial effects on the skeleton at least in part because it increases intestinal calcium absorption.


  1. Kerstetter JE et al. The Impact of Dietary Protein on Calcium Absorption and Kinetic Measures of Bone Turnover in Women. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2005;90(1):26-31
  2. Kerstetter JE, et al. Meat and Soy Protein Affect Calcium Homeostasis in Healthy Women. J Nutr 2006;136:1890–1895
  3. Kerstetter JE et al. High Protein Diets, Calcium Economy, and Bone Health. Top Clin Nutr 2004;19(1):57-70

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