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Are High Protein Diets Good for Your Health?

written by: Rafael • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 12/30/2008

Learn about the health effects of having a diet rich in proteins. Risk of osteoporosis, cancer and kidney problems may increase with high protein diets.

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    Obesity is the “disease” of the 21 century. It has been estimated that about two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese (National Center for Health Statistics, 2006). Overweight and obesity are known risk factors for diabetes, coronary heart disease, high blood cholesterol, stroke hypertension, breathing problems, and some types of cancer (breast, colorectal, endometrial, and kidney).

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    High Protein Diets Are on the Rise

    Eating diets rich in protein are on the rise. Just think on the Atkins Diet and the South Beach Diets and you will see why. High protein diets seem to be the trend of the moment. People are going away from carbohydrates sources such as pastas, potatoes, and rice, and replacing them with protein sources. Protein based diets have some advantages: they seem to give the dieter a great sense of fullness and stabilize their blood sugar levels decreasing the risk of metabolic disorders.

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    High Protein Diets: Are They Healthy?

    Several recent studies point out that high protein diets may have negative effects on the patient health. Let’s see what are the potential problems:

    Osteoporosis: recent studies are showing that adult women who eat meat based diets tend to have a higher rate of bone density loss than women who don't. This fact, usually means, osteoporosis in the longer term. A mechanism have been proposed for this effect. It seems that high protein diets require more calcium to be processed, thus, calcium is “extracted” from its “natural” source, the bones.

    Kidney issues: patients with kidney problems (decreased function) seem to be further affected by taking high protein diets. Fortunately patient with regular kidney function may seem not to be affected. However, kidneys are responsible for filtering a variety of substances including proteins. So, eating a high protein diet does put an extra effort on protein function. Moderation may be the hey in normal people but in patients with reduced kidney function high protein can be negative.

    Cancer: one of the most dangerous diseases of our time may be affected by the diet we eat. Studies are showing that low protein diets may have some sort of protective effect. People who eat low protein diets seem to have low levels of IGF-1. High IGF-1 values in blood are associated with high risk of a variety of cancers.

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    So, Are High Protein Diets Good For Your Health?

    Probably the key is moderation. A person needs only a certain amount of protein (0.37 times his or her body weight) to support a healthy life. Beyond that it may put additional stress of your bones, kidneys or other bodily functions. A good idea for increased general health is to reduce the proteins you get from animal sources and replace them with ones from vegetable origin.

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    Sources:

    National Center for Health Statistics. Chartbook on Trends in the Health of Americans. Health, United States, 2006. Hyattsville, MD: Public Health Service. 2006.

    Diet, nutrition and the prevention of diseases. A Prentice - Public Health Nutrition, 2007 - Cambridge Univ Press

    The acid-base hypothesis: diet and bone in the Framingham Osteoporosis Study -

    KL Tucker, MT Hannan, DP Kiel - European Journal of Nutrition, 2001 -