Background: In normal subjects, a low level of metabolic acidosis and positive acid balance (the production of more acid than is excreted) are typically present and correlate in degree with the amount of endogenous acid produced by the metabolism of foods in ordinary diets abundant in protein. Over a lifetime, the counteraction of retained endogenous acid by base mobilized from the skeleton may contribute to the decrease in bone mass that occurs normally with aging.
Methods: To test that possibility, we administered potassium bicarbonate to 18 postmenopausal women who were given a constant diet (652 mg [16 mmol] of calcium and 96 g of protein per 60 kg of body weight). The potassium bicarbonate was given orally for 18 days in doses (60 to 120 mmol per day) that nearly completely neutralized the endogenous acid.
Results: During the administration of potassium bicarbonate, the calcium and phosphorus balance became less negative or more positive--that is, less was excreted in comparison with the amount ingested (mean [+/- SD] change in calcium balance, +56 +/- 76 mg [1.4 +/- 1.9 mmol] per day per 60 kg; P = 0.009; change in phosphorus balance, +47 +/- 64 mg [1.5 +/- 2.1 mmol] per day per 60 kg; P = 0.007) because of reductions in urinary calcium and phosphorus excretion. The changes in calcium and phosphorus balance were positively correlated (P < 0.001). Serum osteocalcin concentrations increased from 5.5 +/- 2.8 to 6.1 +/- 2.8 ng per milliliter (P < 0.001), and urinary hydroxyproline excretion decreased from 28.9 +/- 12.3 to 26.7 +/- 10.8 mg per day (220 +/- 94 to 204 +/- 82 mumol per day; P = 0.05). Net renal acid excretion decreased from 70.9 +/- 10.1 to 12.8 +/- 21.8 mmol per day, indicating nearly complete neutralization of endogenous acid.
Conclusions: In postmenopausal women, the oral administration of potassium bicarbonate at a dose sufficient to neutralize endogenous acid improves calcium and phosphorus balance, reduces bone resorption, and increases the rate of bone formation.