Background: Different sources of dietary protein may have different effects on bone metabolism. Animal foods provide predominantly acid precursors, whereas protein in vegetable foods is accompanied by base precursors not found in animal foods. Imbalance between dietary acid and base precursors leads to a chronic net dietary acid load that may have adverse consequences on bone.
Objective: We wanted to test the hypothesis that a high dietary ratio of animal to vegetable foods, quantified by protein content, increases bone loss and the risk of fracture.
Design: This was a prospective cohort study with a mean (+/-SD) of 7.0+/-1.5 y of follow-up of 1035 community-dwelling white women aged >65 y. Protein intake was measured by using a food-frequency questionnaire and bone mineral density was measured by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry.
Results: Bone mineral density was not significantly associated with the ratio of animal to vegetable protein intake. Women with a high ratio had a higher rate of bone loss at the femoral neck than did those with a low ratio (P = 0.02) and a greater risk of hip fracture (relative risk = 3.7, P = 0.04). These associations were unaffected by adjustment for age, weight, estrogen use, tobacco use, exercise, total calcium intake, and total protein intake.
Conclusions: Elderly women with a high dietary ratio of animal to vegetable protein intake have more rapid femoral neck bone loss and a greater risk of hip fracture than do those with a low ratio. This suggests that an increase in vegetable protein intake and a decrease in animal protein intake may decrease bone loss and the risk of hip fracture. This possibility should be confirmed in other prospective studies and tested in a randomized trial.