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World Osteoporosis Day: The importance of Protein and Calcium

 World Osteoporosis Day
 World Osteoporosis Day

20th October is World Osteoporosis Day (WOD). A day created to bring attention to a disease that causes weak, brittle bones, which fracture more easily. In more severe cases, even a minor bump, fall or sneeze can cause a broken bone. Millions of people have osteoporosis, leading to billions in health care costs. Not only are about one quarter of people affected by this disease after age 50 (with higher rates in women), but the hip fractures it often causes contribute to about one quarter of sufferers dying within a year.

According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, “The campaign will emphasize the direct link between osteoporosis (the silent, underlying disease) and broken bones, which have a serious, life-changing impact in terms of pain, disability and lost independence.”

As with many diseases, diagnosis and treatment could be much better and similarly, so could prevention, and it’s always better to try to avoid a disease than wind up becoming another statistic, so let’s discuss a few important nutritional considerations that can make a real difference!

Of course, most people already know that calcium is the key mineral for building bones. They also probably know that getting enough vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium from food. These two essential nutrients are a “no brainer” for strong bones. However, other strategies to elude osteoporosis are a bit less well known and could make a big difference. 

For instance, it was previously believed that protein caused the bones to lose more calcium. This is because some evidence showed increased calcium being lost in the urine in people on higher-protein diets. However, newer studies began to emerge showing that people who ate more protein actually had stronger bones but, as is often the way with science, not all studies showed this effect. 

Then, there was a breakthrough. When scientists looked at the calcium intake of subjects in these studies, they found that the ones who got enough protein and enough calcium had stronger, denser bones. Those with lower calcium intakes weren’t helped by protein. We know now that greater protein intake not only increases calcium absorption but also helps bones hold onto more calcium, probably by its effects on certain hormones, like IGF-1 and parathyroid. So, the takeaway message is that without enough calcium, protein can’t do the job on its own and vice versa! So, focus on getting at least the minimum requirement of calcium (800-1000mg) and vitamin D (5 mcg), along with plenty of high-quality protein.

Of course, needless to say, our meal replacement shakes, soups, bars and bites, and other nutritionally complete products are designed to contain the required levels of these nutrients. Also, as you move up the Steps on our diet, high-protein foods and vegetables are increasingly added to the menu. These foods not only include protein, calcium and vitamin D but another very important but little-discussed factor in the way these three nutrients work together to improve bone health, called vitamin K. Perhaps we’ll discuss this neglected essential vitamin in a future blog!

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