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Protein and Osteoporosis – Myths and Facts


Osteoporosis is a general decrease in peak bone mass which may be a part of normal aging in most cases, however, the actual bone loss can lead to fragile and easily broken bones especially in the wrists and hips. It affects women more often than men with about ¼ of American women suffering from some level of osteoporosis to some degree. (It only affects 1/8 of men).

There are several factors that increase risk and certain demographic groups are more likely to have severe osteoporosis than others. These include Asian, American and Caucasian women. Risk factors include: smoking, heavy use of alcohol, steroid medication use, anticonvulsants, heparin (an anti coagulant medication) inflammatory bowel disease (both Chrohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis) and a sedentary life style. Small framed women are most susceptible and those who have family history, particularly of vertebrae fractures are also high risk groups.

Symptoms of osteoporosis include backache, a possible loss of height, abdominal distension and Dowager’s Hump. Women who are at increased risk or those who show any of the symptoms of osteoporosis should have a bone scan which can determine how thin or thick the bone mass is. The National Osteoporosis Foundation suggests bone scans for:

– All women at age 65 or older

– Post-menopausal women under age 65 with one or more of the major osteoporosis risk factors

– Post-menopausal women who have broken a bone

– Those on long term estrogen replacement therapy

– Women who have taken glucorticoids for two months or longer

– Those with medical conditions that increases their risk

– Women who have lost one inch or more in height

– Women with a body mass index that is below 18.

Preventing osteoporosis is much easier than trying to deal with it once it is started. There are medications that can restore some bone density, but it does not work for everyone and can take a long time to start. There are several steps that can be taken to make sure that the bone density stays strong- including a healthy diet and weight bearing exercise. In addition, making sure that there is enough calcium in the diet is very important as well.

It is a persistent myth that protein can cause or exacerbate osteoporosis in the general public, however, that has been repeatedly shown to be false in numerous studies. The theory is that increased protein raises the acidity of the blood causing the body to use mineral from the bones to buffer the blood and bring this acid level back down to its normal range.

Early studies suggested that protein caused a faster rate of exertion of calcium in the urine, however newer studies are showing that 1) this is not actually true and 2) the results that were retrieved with the early studies were possibly skewed. Newer studies are showing that in some cases, the reverse might actually be true, however there are several factors that have to be considered-

– Earlier tests may not have taken into account mitigating factors including overall general health, dietary intake, activity level, gender and family history

– Athletes, who already have denser bones than others are typically the ones that are eating the higher protein amounts that were used in the earlier testing.

Most of the people who are at higher risk of osteoporosis are in their sixties or seventies. Most of this age group is not eating high protein diets to begin with, however they should be increasing their overall protein intake as well as their calcium intake, to protect against osteoporosis and other conditions and diseases that they may be facing.

Older adults typically do not have good appetites nor do they eat a healthy and well balanced diet. There are several reasons that older people, especially women, stop eating but it increases their risk for a number of vitamin and mineral deficiencies which may also increase their risk for osteoporosis.

Phosphorous is also a problem with those at high risk for osteoporosis. Sources for phosphorous includes: soda, halibut, non-fat yogurt, skim milk, salmon, chicken breast, oatmeal, extra lean ground beef, broccoli and lima beans. Nearly all (85%) of the phosphorous in the body is located in the bones and is vital for many of the chemical reactions in the body. However, the balance of calcium to phosphorous is so delicate that too much phosphorous will leach calcium from the bones and into the blood stream where it will eventually be filtered by the kidneys and then excreted by the bladder in the urine. It may be this imbalance that suggests that protein is the culprit (most of the foods that are high in phosphorous are also protein foods).

Eating a Better Diet for Health and Well Being

Experts suggest that seniors should increase their protein intake regardless of their activity level, however they should also increase their activity level. Weight bearing exercise can help maintain their bone density and prevent them from getting osteoporosis or can slow the progression of the disease. To have the energy that is needed to accomplish these exercises as well as being able to build lean muscle mass, the diet has to include the right amounts of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Because of the lack of appetite, using a protein supplement between meals or as a meal replacement might be beneficial to the older adult.

Protein, because it is so important to the body, must be consumed in the right amounts, but the right types of protein may also be a beneficial consideration as well. After all, not all proteins are created equally. Soy protein, for instance has been shown to decrease bone loss in postmenopausal women as well as another of additional health benefits. Miso, which is a fermented soy bean pasted favored by the Japanese, has been shown to increase bone density in post menopausal women as well as decreasing breast cancer risk.

Protein Supplements to Try

Soy protein and soy products such as miso are good sources of phytoestrogens, however, there are other protein sources that might be beneficial to the newly active, older adult, making sure that they are getting enough protein in their diet and possibly enough calories as well.

Soy protein is not only found in food sources, but in powdered supplement form, as both an isolate and a concentrate. There are some people who are allergic to soy however, so be careful when starting it as a supplement and always check with your doctor before adding any kind of supplement to your diet.

Source by Jim Duffy


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