Protein and bone health: literature review and counselling implications

Can J Diet Pract Res. Spring 2003;64(1):5-11. doi: 10.3148/64.1.2003.5.


For decades, public health promotion campaigns on bone health have emphasized the importance of adequate calcium and vitamin D intakes, as well as weight-bearing physical activity. However, no obvious consensus has emerged on the role of dietary protein. To identify what agreement does exist in the literature, in this article we review the theoretical basis for protein's role in bone health, assess some recent cross-sectional and prospective studies, and generate recommendations for practice. There is general agreement in the literature that higher protein intake increases urinary calcium loss; the body compensates for this loss by increasing calcium absorption in the gut, providing that calcium intake is sufficient. A possible explanation for calcium loss, the "acid-ash" hypothesis, is discussed, and suggestions are made about food choices that may counter the calciuric effect of protein. A survey of cross-sectional and prospective studies shows equivocal results, with confounding variables complicating the analysis. Both deficient and excessive protein intakes have been shown to affect bone health negatively, although lower and upper thresholds have not been determined. Practical advice on achieving bone health is given, with an emphasis on the use of Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating in setting dietary goals.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bone and Bones / metabolism*
  • Calcium, Dietary / administration & dosage*
  • Dietary Proteins / administration & dosage*
  • Health Promotion
  • Humans
  • Osteoporosis / prevention & control*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic


  • Calcium, Dietary
  • Dietary Proteins