Dietary Acid and Osteoporosis

There has been a lot of talk lately about how “acidic” the Western diet is.  Meat is acidic, dairy is acidic, soda is acidic, it goes on and on!

I’ve been doing some research lately about foods that increase acid production in the body.  This doesn’t mean the foods themselves are acidic, but the processing of the nutrients in the food causes more acid to build up in the body.

Why do we care about acid in the body?  There are a lot of reasons today I’m focused on the fact that having to get rid of too much acid puts a strain on the kidneys and promotes the loss of bone matrix (leading to osteoporosis) and the formation of kidney stones.

If you have kidney problems, osteoporosis (or a family history of osteoporosis) or kidney stones, you should definitely pay close attention to how many acid-forming foods you’re eating per day.

In this post I’m going to focus on osteoporosis.  I expect I will write in the future about kidney stones as well.

It is estimated that the Western diet we eat today produces a LOT of acid, the equivalent of 4.9 grams of hydrochloric acid every day.  Our lungs and kidneys get rid of most of it, but not all of it.  Our bodies use calcium from bone to neutralize anything that is left.  Over years, this leaches the minerals from our bones and leads to osteoporosis and fractures.

Where does the acid come from?  The most acid-forming foods in the Western diet are sulfur-containing amino acids (found in large amounts in animal protein), cereal grains like wheat, phosphoric acid in soda, and salt.  Yes, I know, salt is salt and doesn’t contain acid, but it interferes with the kidneys’ ability to process acid.  Eating too much salt will cause acid to build up in the body.

Are there foods that will decrease acid production in the body?  Yep.  Diets high in magnesium, potassium, and fruits and vegetables increase bone mineral density and decrease fracture risk. You can replace animal protein with plant protein like beans, soy and quinoa.  You can also replace cereal grains with non-grain plant foods like roots, tubers, leafy green vegetables, vegetable fruit (veggies with seeds like tomatoes and cucumbers) and fruits.  These foods decrease acid production in the body.

What about supplements?  Turns out that potassium citrate and magnesium supplementation decreases bone turnover, increases bone density and decreases the amount of acid excreted in the urine.  Magnesium and potassium citrate also decreased the formation of kidney stones and even dissolved calcium oxalate stones (the most common type).  A beneficial side effect was that potassium supplementation also decreased blood pressure significantly in those with hypertension.

One BIG word of caution about potassium supplements.  PLEASE check with your doctor to see if potassium supplements would be safe for you before you start taking them.  There are medications that increase potassium levels, and as we age our kidneys get less able to manage potassium properly.  High potassium levels in the blood are VERY dangerous.  Blood test monitoring is prudent in anyone at risk for elevated potassium.

How can you see whether you’re getting too much sodium or not enough potassium?  There is a free calorie tracker at myfitnesspal.com that will give you nutrient information such as vitamin and mineral intake, calories, fat and protein grams in addition to calories.

I checked consumerlab.com for recommendations about magnesium and potassium citrate.  I found that they gave good ratings to the potassium citrate supplement from Natural Factors, the potassium-magnesium citrate supplement from Thorne Research, and the magnesium citrate supplements from Solgar, Kirkland and Spring Valley.

If you have osteoporosis or a family history of osteoporosis, you should strongly consider changing your diet to include more fruits and vegetables, roots, tubers and green leafy vegetables.  Don’t drink soda, period.  You should limit your animal protein intake (meat, dairy, egg and fish) and substitute plant sources of protein.  You should carefully monitor your sodium intake.  You should also make sure you’re getting enough potassium, and if not (most of us don’t, including me) you should consider taking a potassium citrate supplement, with magnesium citrate if you have a personal or family history of kidney stones.

QUESTION: Do you have osteoporosis?  Did anything in this post surprise you?

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One thought on “Dietary Acid and Osteoporosis

  1. This was so interesting! Ive been learning more and more about eating less meat, if any and just eating more fruits and veggies. I have been eating more plant based foods and I love it!

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