A hip fracture can devastate the life of older adults and their families. Seniors lose their independence, suffer terrible pain and in many cases never regain their quality of life postinjury. However, some encouraging research has emerged that has the potential to lower the incidence of hip fractures in the elderly.

A new study by the Institute for Aging Research of Hebrew SeniorLife in Boston, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, has found that seniors who consume a higher level of dietary protein are less likely to suffer hip fractures than seniors whose daily dietary protein intake is lower. The paper was published in the May issue of Osteoporosis International.

Researchers examined the daily protein intake of 946 seniors (576 women, 370 men) from the Framingham Osteoporosis Study and found that individuals whose intake was in the lowest 25% had approximately 50% more hip fractures than those who consumed greater amounts of protein (all within normal intakes). Those who suffered hip fractures consumed less than the 46 g of dietary protein per day recommended for adults.

While other studies have shown that dietary protein intake is linked with higher bone mineral density, research indicates that dietary protein may further protect elderly people against hip fracture by building stronger muscles in the legs. Most fractures occur after a fall, which may be caused by less muscle mass and decreased strength in the lower extremities. Additionally, and as fitness professionals who work with older adults know, regular exercise builds stronger muscles and improves balance. By combining exercise and adequate protein intake with other fall prevention strategies, such as reducing hazards in the home, seniors can improve their chances against falls and hip fractures.

The study, which was funded in part by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, builds on previous studies that included mostly women and reported a relationship between greater dietary protein intake and decreased risk of hip fracture. The authors believe larger prospective studies are needed to extend their findings vis-à-vis both older men and women.