Dr. Bess Dawson-Hughes, MD, along with a team of researchers, explored the associations between dietary protein intake and changes in Bone Mineral Density (BMD) in elderly subjects. This study examined the associations between protein intake and changes in BMD in a randomized, placebo-controlled trial of calcium citrate and vitamin D supplementation. Study participants either consumed a 500 mg per day supplement of calcium citrate and approximately 700 mg per day of dietary calcium, as well as approximately 200 IU per day of vitamin D, or a placebo for three years.
For the total body BMD, a 20% higher mean protein intake was associated with significantly less loss of total body BMD in the calcium-supplemented subjects, whereas there was no association between protein intake and BMD in the placebo group. The supplemented group also had higher rates of calcium absorption from food than the placebo group, indicating that calcium supplementation may also aid the absorption of calcium from food.
This analysis concluded that protein intake is important in bone health when sufficient amounts of calcium and vitamin D are present. "We found that protein has a favorable effect on changes in bone density if you have an adequate calcium and vitamin D intake," Dr. Dawson-Hughes states. "But, it has a neutral effect if you have an inadequate calcium and vitamin D intake. So, in the placebo group (with inadequate calcium and vitamin D intake), more and more protein wasn't helpful."
This study may clarify some of the differing information on bone density.