In the July 2010 issue of Consumer Reports, there was a story on protein supplements. When this story broke, most people only talked about the CR finding that some protein supplements had lead etc. However I wanted to comment on another part of their review: do protein supplements cause osteoporosis? So let’s talk about it.
Does Protein Cause Osteoporosis?
If you read the consumer reports article on the hazards of protein supplements you might think that these products cause osteoporosis. I say this because CR hinted that they did this. But if protein did cause osteoporosis, why don’t we ever see osteoporosis in bodybuilders, power lifters, football players or other athletes? These individuals eat tremendous amount of protein –more than I would say they need– but I've never heard of any of these people getting osteoporosis.
In fact, research shows that people who eat protein tend to have stronger bones! Now, if you don’t exercise (that means lifting weights!) and are eating a lot of protein, then osteoporosis is a possibility. But if you’re healthy and working out regularly, I just don’t see much proof of it.
Type II diabetes is a big issue in America because people are eating too many calories and not exercising enough. Many people have type II diabetes (and pre-diabetes) but do not know it. High intakes of protein may tax the kidneys and exacerbate their conditions.
I appreciated that Consumer Reports mentioned this because protein supplements and high protein diets are often marketed to overweight people. These individuals do need to watch their protein intake and discuss this with their doctors and a dietitian.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
The CR article says that you should multiply your weight by 0.4 to calculate the amount of protein you need. But, this only gives you the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of protein. The RDA for protein is NOT appropriate for people who work out regularly – the very people that protein supplements are often marketed to. They need a little more than the RDA.
While everybody agrees that the RDA is good enough for the average, healthy, non exercising person, there is a lot of controversy about how much protein people need if they work out.
The amount of protein people need is hard to determine. Simply saying 1 gram per pound as CR mentions is a cookie cutter approach that is not good for everybody.
For example, I might say 1 gram per pound if a person was only lifting weights, but what if they were a marathon runner? In that case, I’d say less. What if the person was doing both cardio and strength training in the same workout?
Also, the need for protein increases as we get older. In older adults, if they only get the protein RDA, this could lead to muscle loss, accelerating sarcopenia and ramping up long term disability. Consumer Reports does not mention this. Yes, protein supplements tend to be more expensive than protein-foods. But, for older adults who have a poor appetites (many of them do!), protein supplements can an efficient way to get the protein they need. Now, I'm not just recommending protein “supplements” here because research even shows that in older adults, chocolate milk works too!
What do you think?