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Eat More Protein to Reduce Osteoporosis Fracture Risk

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Osteoporosis by itself is scary and dangerous. If you have osteoporosis and break a hip there’s up to a 40% chance you’ll die within six months, and up to 20% chance that you’ll be dead within the year. But when you combine osteoporosis with muscle loss, it’s even deadlier. 

Sarcopenia is the progressive loss of muscle, strength, and function, which frequently occurs as people get older. When someone has osteoporosis and sarcopenia together it’s called osteosarcopenia. A recent study showed that when people with osteosarcopenia fracture a hip their risk for dying within a year is 180% higher than people with osteoporosis alone.

So one simple thing you can do to reduce your risk, and help you stay active and healthy long into your later years, is to make sure your muscles stay strong or make them stronger. To do that you need two things: consume enough protein and do resistance exercises. 

If you want some exercise tips, read my blog on how you can work exercise into your daily life. I’ll also expand on that more in a future blog, today I’m focusing on making sure you’re getting enough protein. Despite the high-protein diet craze, more likely than not you’re falling short.

Consuming adequate protein is crucial for preventing and reversing sarcopenia. Unfortunately, most people aren’t getting enough. The US recommended daily amount (RDA) for protein is the same for everyone 18 years and older. But this one-size-fits-all recommendation is wrong. 

We now know that as people get older they need more protein, and just consuming the amount recommended by the FDA creates muscle wasting. Despite all the foods being marketed as high in protein and the Keto and Paleo diet crazes, most people aren’t eating enough. 

While the RDA for protein is 0.8 g/kg body weight per day for both men and women ages 18 years and older, a controlled clinical trial found significant muscle wasting over three months in volunteers (mean age 66 years old) consuming this amount of protein. Shockingly, muscle loss was detectable by the second week, indicating that following the RDA guideline for protein quickly increases muscle loss. 

In contrast to the RDA, research suggests a minimum protein intake of 1.0 to 1.3 g/kg body weight per day for the elderly, plus resistance training, can prevent and reverse muscle loss, increase strength and reduce the risk for falls and fractures. And other recommendations go as high as 2.0 g/kg body weight per day. Equally important, research shows that eating more than the minimum recommended amount of protein results in healthier bones with higher bone mineral density. 

So what does this mean for you? 

First, calculate how much protein you should be eating. Let’s take as a generally good amount 1.2 g/kg body weight per day. Here’s a simple way to determine how many grams of protein you should be eating.

  1. Covert your body weight from pounds to kilograms. To do this, take your body weight in pounds and divide it by 2.2
  2. Next, take your weight in kilograms that you just calculated and multiply it by 1.2

Here’s a real-life example. I weigh 150 pounds, so let’s figure out how many grams of protein I should be eating every day. 

  1. 150 lbs ➗ 2.2 kg/lb = 68 kg
  2. 68 kg x 1.2 grams/kg = 81.6 grams of protein. 

For simplicity, I’d simply round up and say I should be eating 82 grams of protein per day. This would be the minimum amount, so actually aim to get a bit more. 

Now calculate how much protein you should be consuming. Whatever your amount, you’re probably not eating enough, but how do you know? 

Now that you calculated your protein requirement, you’ll want to figure out the amount of protein you’re currently eating. This will give you a starting point and an awareness of where you’re at now compared to how much protein you actually should be eating. 

To determine how much you’re eating now, follow these steps: 

  1. Download and print the NBI Protein Handout
  2. Write down everything you eat during the day. 
  3. Use the handout to estimate how many grams of protein you ate. 

Once you know where you’re at versus where you need to get to, start adding more protein into your diet. Use the protein handout to continue tracking how much you’re eating until you reach your goal. While getting it from food is best, if you need a bit of help to reach your goal, supplement your diet with a high-quality protein powder. Good protein powders will provide about 20 grams of protein per serving. 

When I’ve helped my patients transition into eating healthier, I encouraged them to use the handouts I’d provide as tools to help them make sure they’re eating the right way. However, once eating this way becomes a habit, there’s no need to continue using the handouts or calculating how much they’re eating. And isn’t that the point–to develop healthy habits that are helping us reach our goals instead of following old, destructive ways of living that are slowly making us sick? 

More detailed information and tips on how you can transition into eating more protein (and an overall healthier diet to also reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, obesity, and diabetes) are in my blog, Dr. Neustadt’s 3 Steps to Eating Healthy for Life.

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