Protein Bad for Bones?

Does a High Protein Diet Make Your Bones Weaker?

In All Health Watch, Anti-Aging, Featured Article by INH Research8 Comments

When it comes to high protein diets, it’s hard to get a straight answer…

While there is some good science out there, there’s also information circulating that’s misleading, contradictory or just plain ridiculous.

That’s why we’re introducing a new series of Health Watch issues to set the record straight. You’ll know what you can believe and what you shouldn’t.

Is there such a thing as too much protein? Does too much protein make your bones weaker? Is there a perfect source of protein for overall health?

We’ll answer these questions and more in the coming weeks. Let’s start by looking at what a high protein diet does to your bones.

Some experts claim that a high protein diet can actually contribute to weaker bones and even osteoporosis.1

But is it true? Can a high protein diet make your bones weaker and more brittle?

No. A higher protein diet actually protects your bones. Studies in the past two to three years show that women who eat a high protein diet—more than 85 grams of protein a day—have the lowest risk of developing a fracture.2

Protein is a transport system for calcium in the body. Without enough protein, it’s hard for your body to properly absorb any calcium that you get from food or supplements.3

And that’s not all. Protein also plays a key role in raising IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor). IGF-1 is essential to bone growth and development.4 As you get older, your body produces less of it. This can lead to weaker bones over time. People with osteoporosis have 40% less IGF-1 than people without osteoporosis.5

Reducing daily protein intake from 1.67 g per pound of bodyweight to 0.95 g per pound reduces IGF-1 levels by as much as 22 percent in just 3 weeks.6

In a four-year study of over 500 women aged 55 – 92, those who added just 15 grams per day of animal protein significantly increased their bone mineral density. Fifteen grams is less than 3 ounces of meat or fish.

It’s not very difficult to get quality animal protein from natural sources. Some great sources for high amounts of protein are wild caught salmon, grass fed steak, and leafy green vegetables. A half fillet of wild caught salmon has around 40 g of protein. Three ounces of steak has about 23 g protein, depending on the cut.7

A high protein diet isn’t bad for your bones. In fact, the research shows that animal protein supports healthy bones.

Eating a high protein diet is a delicious, satisfying path to stronger bones… But is all protein made equal? Find out in next Sunday’s Health Watch, the second part of this series. We’ll debunk some of the more popular—and ridiculous—myths about protein sources.

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  1. I had been doing a low carb, adequate protein and fat diet for years. Many would call it high protein. I would call it high protein if I the amount I consumed exceeded my needs. I had suffered a knee injury at work a while back that required x rays. The doctor was expecting to see signs of osteoporosis because of my age. However, that was not the case. He was quite impressed to see healthy bone mass and assured me that I was fine. I actually mentioned to him that contributed to the healthy bone mass. He completely blew it off. Now that I am considerably older I want to make this diet even more important in maintaining my health.

  2. Although leafy green vegetables aren’t high in protein, they do supply significant amounts of calcium, magnesium, and Vit K which are necessary for good bone health. However, this isn’t the only typo in this article. The daily protein calculation factors of 1.67g per lb. and .95g per lb. are incorrect. The factors should be per kilogram not pound. Additionally, they should be calculated per kilogam of lean body mass not gross bodyweight [a pun? perhaps]. Degree of physical activity also needs to be considered since this generates greater demands for protein needed in tissue repair.

  3. About 49% of the calories in spinach comes from protein. I cannot find any meat that comes close to that in protein content. Leafy green vegetables can be very high in protein. Most people drastically underestimate both the quality and quantity of vegetable sources of protein. The people of the third world are largely vegetarian, not by conviction, but because of economics, and they are much leaner on average than Americans who largely live on an animal protein diet. I have never in all my life eaten animal flesh, and have mostly given up milk and eggs in the last 20 years, yet my bone mass is much better than average. I do supplement with B12 and Omega 3. I am a fourth generation vegetarian. The well-known and respected book “The China Study” does not support your protein theories, but rather a whole-foods vegetarian diet, and the author has led hundreds of research projects on diet, including the largest study so far. Armchair dietitians with no real research background are going to destroy us with their wild theories. The hype about the benefits of animal protein is so overblown that I am really concerned. I am 66 and have absolutely no joint pain, arthritis, or bone density problems. I jog, run, often use a chainsaw several hours on weekends to get firewood, yet have a sedentary job all week (optometrist). I notice that vegetarians have much more endurance than carnivores in general. I have spoken to many, many people who have agreed to go off of all animal products gradually while supplementing, and have seen and heard from them how much better they feel. Sorry, I simply don’t believe you.

    1. Spinach, raw
      Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
      Energy 97 kJ (23 kcal)
      Carbohydrates 3.6 g
      – Sugars 0.4 g
      – Dietary fiber 2.2 g
      Fat 0.4 g
      Protein 2.9 g
      Water 91.4 g
      Vitamin A equiv. 469 μg (59%)
      Vitamin A 9377 IU
      – beta-carotene 5626 μg (52%)
      – lutein and zeaxanthin 12198 μg
      Thiamine (vit. B1) 0.078 mg (7%)
      Riboflavin (vit. B2) 0.189 mg (16%)
      Niacin (vit. B3) 0.724 mg (5%)
      Vitamin B6 0.195 mg (15%)
      Folate (vit. B9) 194 μg (49%)
      Vitamin C 28 mg (34%)
      Vitamin E 2 mg (13%)
      Vitamin K 483 μg (460%)
      Calcium 99 mg (10%)
      Iron 2.71 mg (21%)
      Magnesium 79 mg (22%)
      Manganese 0.897 mg (43%)
      Phosphorus 49 mg (7%)
      Potassium 558 mg (12%)
      Sodium 79 mg (5%)

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