Interaction of dietary calcium and protein in bone health in humans.
Protein has both positive and negative effects on calcium balance, and the net effect of dietary protein on bone mass and fracture risk may be dependent on the dietary calcium intake. In addition to providing substrate for bone matrix, dietary protein stimulates the production of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), a factor that promotes osteoblast-mediated bone formation. Protein also increases urinary calcium losses, by several proposed mechanisms. Increasing calcium intake may offset the negative impact of dietary protein on urinary calcium losses, allowing the favorable effect of protein on the IGF-1 axis to dominate. Several, although not all, studies are either compatible with or support this hypothesis. Protein supplements significantly reduced bone loss in elderly hip-fracture patients in a study in which both the protein and control groups received supplemental calcium. In an observational study, total protein intake was positively associated with favorable 3-y changes in femoral neck and total body bone mineral density in volunteers who received supplemental calcium citrate malate and vitamin D, but not in volunteers taking placebos. In conclusion, an adequate calcium intake may help promote a favorable effect of dietary protein on the skeleton in older individuals.