Osteoporosis and Bone Health

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Ellen Evans, associate professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois, published the findings of a study that suggests a diet based on lean meats and low-fat dairy products is much more effective in staving off the onset of osteoporosis than the diet recommended by the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) recently updated food pyramid.  Osteoporosis is a painful and crippling degenerative disease of the skeletal system that strikes elderly women with more vigor than other segments of the population.

The University of Illinois study recruited 130 participants, all middle aged and overweight, to take part in the 12-month study.  Half the study group was assigned, by random, the diet of lean meats and low-fat dairy products while the other members of the group ate according to the guidelines in the USDA food pyramid.  Active weight loss was the focus during the first four months of study, with the remaining eight months of study allocated for weight maintenance.

Since osteoporosis is diagnosed by the loss of mineral content and density in the bones, each of the study participants was tested for mineral density and content at the outset of the trial and at four-month intervals throughout.  The disease is also associated with fractures of the hip and spine so each study participant was scanned from head to foot at the beginning of the study and at four-month intervals also.

During the course of the study, the group eating according to the food pyramid experienced a decline in healthy bone tissue, which threatens osteoporosis, while the group eating the lean-protein diet enjoyed stable bone density and mineral content through the full course of the study.  The research team suggests the lean-protein-based diet was naturally high in calcium and protein and many foods in it are fortified with vitamin D, all nutrients required for optimum bone health.

In times past, a diet high in protein was thought to be harmful to bone health because this type diet often produces a higher than normal level of calcium in the urine.  This process of leaching out minerals from the bone is called demineralization.

The University of Illinois research team disproved this belief, using radiolabeling to determine that the excess calcium in the urine doesn’t come from the bones at all.  Instead it comes from food intake.  The lean meats diet boosts the body’s digestive system to absorb and process calcium more effectively than the food pyramid diet does, providing yet another reason why the high-protein, low-fat diet is much better in protecting against the onset of osteoporosis than the diet described in the food pyramid.