Calcium-losing effect of protein
People believe that bones lost calcium only if there was not enough calcium in our diets. The National Dairy Council is the foremost spokesman for this point of view, and the solution they propose, not all that surprisingly, is for us all to drink more milk and eat more dairy products. In fact, the dairy industry has of late spent a great deal of money promoting this point of view; and it does seem logical. But modern nutritional research clearly indicates a major flaw in this perspective. Osteoporosis is, in fact, a disease caused by a number of things, the most important of which is excess dietary animal protein!
The correspondence between excess animal protein intake and bone resorption is direct and consistent. Even with very high calcium intakes, the more excess animal protein in the diet the greater the incidence of negative calcium balance, and the greater the loss of calcium from the bones.
One long-term study found that with as little as 75 grams of daily protein (less than three-quarters of what the average meat-eating American consumes) more calcium is lost in the urine than is absorbed by the body from the diet - resulting in a negative calcium balance. This is true even if the dietary calcium intake is as high as 1400 milligrams per day, far higher than the standard American diet.
Summarising the medical research on osteoporosis, one of the nation’s leading medical authorities on dietary associations with disease, Dr. John McDougall, says:
“I would like to emphasize that the calcium-losing effect of protein on the human body is not an area of controversy in scientific circles. The many studies performed during the past 55 years consistently show that the most important dietary change that we can make if we want to create a positive calcium balance that will keep our bones solid is to decrease the amount of proteins we eat each day. The important change is not to increase the amount of calcium we take in.”
Osteoporosis Around the World
Throughout the world, the incidence of osteoporosis correlates directly with animal protein intake. The greater the intake of protein, the more common and more severe will be the osteoporosis. In fact, world health statistics show that osteoporosis is most common in exactly those countries where dairy products are consumed in the largest quantities - the United States, Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
Nathan Pritikin studied the medical research on osteoporosis, and found no basis at all for the Dairy Council viewpoint:
African Bantu women take in only 350 mg. of calcium per day. They bear nine children during their lifetime and breast feed them for two years. They never have calcium deficiency, seldom break a bone, rarely lose a tooth... How can they do that on 350 mg. of calcium a day when the (National Dairy Council) recommendation is 1200 mg.? It’s very simple. They’re on a low-protein diet that doesn’t kick the calcium out of the body’.
At the other end of the scale from the Bantus are the native Eskimos.
If osteoporosis were a calcium deficiency disease it would be unheard of among these people. They have the highest dietary calcium intake of any people in the world - more than 2000 mg. a day from fish bones. Their diet is also the very highest in the world in protein - 250 to 400 grams a day. The native Eskimo people have one of the very highest rates of osteoporosis in the world.
In March, 1983, the Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported the results of the largest study of this kind ever undertaken. Researchers in Michigan State and other major universities found that, by the age of 65 in the United States:
Male vegetarians had an average measurable bone loss of 3%
Male meat-eaters had an average measurable bone loss of 7%
Female vegetarians had an average measurable bone loss of 18%
Female meat-eaters had an average measurable bone loss of 35%