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What a leading osteoporosis researcher has to say about dietary acid and bone health

The alkaline diet theory related to bone health is controversial but it seems more evidence is accumulating to support the concept that too much acid in the diet is not good for your bones. NutritionAction.com interviewed Bess Dawson-Hughes, Director of the Bone Metabolism Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, a professor of medicine at Tufts, and a former President of the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Dr. Dawson-Hughes also served on the Council of the International Bone and Mineral Society and the Advisory Council of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Here is what she had to say about excess acid and bone health. 

  • When asked if foods that create acids in the body lead to bone loss she responded that there are short term human studies indicating that when healthy older people are put on bicarbonate or citrate pills, which are a source of alkali that neutralizes acid, they see less bone breakdown. 
  • She also shared that there are two longer-term studies. One Swedish study that saw improved bone mineral density and less bone loss in elderly subjects treated with alkali than those treated with a placebo. They also saw improved bone strength and quality at all skeletal sites. The second British study used a lower dose of alkali and saw no improvement.

For research purposes it works best to use an alkali such as bicarbonate or citrate pills to ensure consistent intake and adherence, but for someone trying to achieve the same results on an individual basis it is best to use the diet to control acid. Additional research is needed before recommending alkali supplements in a non-research setting.

At this point it seems best to focus efforts to alkalinize the diet on consuming more fruits and vegetables and balancing acid producing foods with alkaline foods. In addition to their alkalizing effects, fruits and vegetables offer many other bone healthy nutrients that would not be available from alkali solutions.

For a better understanding of the alkaline diet see my blog Explaining the Acid Alkaline Theory of Eating 

Photo used with permission from the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Photo taken by Ashley Salazar

posted 9/18/2018