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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 2018 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.

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 exercise

Older People Need More Protein

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. 

Calculate Your Amount

So what does this mean for you? 

First, calculate how much protein you should be eating. Let’s take as a generally good amount 1.3 g/kg body weight per day. In the US, that’s difficult for people to figure out since we weigh ourselves in pounds and not kilograms.

But there’s a simple conversion you can do to estimate the minimum amount of protein you should be eating. Take your body weight in pounds and multiply it by 0.59. That will be about the number of grams of protein you should be getting a day through food or through a dietary supplement if you need a little extra. For example, if you’re a woman who weighs 130 pounds, multiplying your weight by .59 equals 76.7. To make it easier, round up. Your protein goal would be 77 grams per day.

Now do this for yourself. Take your weight and multiply it by 0.59. That’s how much protein you should be consuming.

Whatever your amount, you’re probably not eating enough, but how do you know? 

How Much Are You Eating?

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. 

Improve Your Diet

Once you know how much you’re eating compared to how much protein you should getting, 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 with a high-quality protein powder. Good protein powders provide about 20 grams of protein per serving. 

When I’ve helped my patients transition into eating healthier, the protien handout helped them make sure they’re eating the right way. Once eating healthier becomes a habit, there’s no need to continue using the handouts or calculating how much you’re eating. And isn’t that the point? To develop healthy habits that are helping you reach your goal instead of following old, destructive ways of living that are slowly making you sick? 

Buy the Book

My latest book, Fracture-Proof Your Boneshas a chapter dedicated to diet. But diet is only one component of a holistic plan for improving bone density, growing stronger bones and reducing fractures. Fracture-Proof Your Bones contains two decades of my research, teaching and clinical experiences helping patients with a comprehensive approach. This book will teach you:

  • How to FIND AND ELIMINATE hidden dangers that cause osteoporosis and fractures.
  • How to CREATE a holistic plan using diet, lifestyle, exercise, and dietary supplements to protect your bones.
  • How to TALK to your doctor about medications and osteoporosis to make sure you get the best possible care.

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