Review: Protein and Bone Studies


Health effects of protein intake in healthy adults: a systematic literature review.

The purpose of this systematic review is to assess the evidence behind the dietary requirement of protein and to assess the health effects of varying protein intake in healthy adults. The literature search covered the years 2000-2011. Prospective cohort, case-control, and intervention studies were included. Out of a total of 5,718 abstracts, 412 full papers were identified as potentially relevant, and after careful scrutiny, 64 papers were quality graded as A (highest), B, or C. The grade of evidence was classified as convincing, probable, suggestive or inconclusive. The evidence is assessed as: probable for an estimated average requirement of 0.66 g good-quality protein/kg body weight (BW)/day based on nitrogen balance studies, suggestive for a relationship between increased all-cause mortality risk and long-term low-carbohydrate-high-protein (LCHP) diets; but inconclusive for a relationship between all-cause mortality risk and protein intake per se; suggestive for an inverse relationship between cardiovascular mortality and vegetable protein intake; inconclusive for relationships between cancer mortality and cancer diseases, respectively, and protein intake; inconclusive for a relationship between cardiovascular diseases and total protein intake; suggestive for an inverse relationship between blood pressure (BP) and vegetable protein; probable to convincing for an inverse relationship between soya protein intake and LDL cholesterol; inconclusive for a relationship between protein intake and bone health, energy intake, BW control, body composition, renal function, and risk of kidney stones, respectively; suggestive for a relationship between increased risk of type 2 diabetes (T2D) and long-term LCHP-high-fat diets; inconclusive for impact of physical training on protein requirement; and suggestive for effect of physical training on whole-body protein retention. In conclusion, the evidence is assessed as probable regarding the estimated requirement based on nitrogen balance studies, and suggestive to inconclusive for protein intake and mortality and morbidity. Vegetable protein intake was associated with decreased risk in many studies. Potentially adverse effects of a protein intake exceeding 20-23 E% remain to be investigated.

Pedersen AN, Kondrup J, Børsheim E
Food Nutr Res 2013
PMID: 23908602 | Free Full Text

Based on a validated FFQ, a French study of postmenopausal women with a habitual HP intake (45), there was no overall association between fracture risk and total protein intake. In the presence of low calcium intake (<400 mg/1,000 kcal), there was an increased risk of fractures related to energy-adjusted total and animal protein as well as gram per kg BW, while energy-adjusted vegetable protein was associated with a decreased fracture risk. In the Framingham Offspring Study of men and women (46), there was no overall association between fracture risk and total protein intake based on FFQ. Animal protein intake was associated with an increased fracture risk provided a low (<800 mg) calcium intake and a decreased risk of fractures provided a high (>800 mg) calcium intake. The Study of Osteoporotic Fractures in postmenopausal women (42) found increased risk of hip fractures related to high animal protein intake and high A/V ratio estimated from FFQ. When the model was adjusted for BMD, the relation of A/V ratio to fracture risk became non-significant. The systematic review and meta-analysis (44) found no relationship between protein intake and risk of fractures, neither in the cohort studies nor in the supplemental studies.


A systematic review and meta-analysis assessed the relation of dietary acid load to bone health (47), quality graded as C because of the lack of information about dietary intake methods or intervention (see Appendix C, Table C10). The analysis did not support the hypothesis that ‘acid’ from the diet causes osteoporosis or that an ‘alkaline’ diet prevents osteoporosis. The systematic review also indicated that higher protein intake and animal protein were not detrimental to calcium retention. The ideal protein intake for bone health could not be determined.


Two intervention trials including postmenopausal women (48, 49), quality graded as B and A, respectively, were identified for the association between protein and calcium and bone metabolism (see Appendix C, Table C10). Harrington et al. (48) used a high-sodium–high-protein diet versus a low-sodium–UP diet in a randomized cross-over trial. Thus, it was difficult to separate the effect of protein per se. Nevertheless, they found that a high-sodium HP diet led to increased urinary calcium loss and increased bone resorption. In a high-quality feeding trial by Hunt et al. (49), high- (20 E%) or low- (10 E%) protein intake was combined with high- (1,510 mg) and low-calcium (675 mg) intake in a randomized four interventions’ cross-over design. They found that the combination of HP and low-calcium diet increased calcium retention, and it also resulted in an increase in IGF-1, an anabolic peptide hormone stimulating bone formation.