According to researchers, slightly increased amounts through daily protein intake could increase height by one centimeter as children grow. Just seven grams above the recommended daily allowance provides faster bone and muscle growth in children. However, the study, conducted by nutritionists at the University of Bonn, also shows that men do not benefit from increased protein intake in terms of their adult height. Young women, on the other hand, often see it as problematic when their height significantly exceeds 1.80 meters. Here, during growth, a protein intake adapted to the recommendations can even cause a reduction of a few centimeters.
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How daily protein intake promotes height growth in girls
Along with carbohydrates and fats, protein is one of the three macronutrients required for optimal health. In addition, regular protein intake supports tissue growth and repair and has a health-promoting effect on the body. Protein also still boosts the immune system and can help some children grow taller, according to the study authors.
The average height of women in Western countries is between 156 and 163 cm. Previous analyses of teen biometric data show that the tallest men in the world are Dutch, while the tallest women are from Latvia. The current study results suggest that while increasing daily protein intake has no effect on the height of boys and young men, such a relationship exists in girls. In addition, 7 grams more of protein a day could be the key to faster height growth.
How the study was conducted
According to one of the study authors, Prof. Dr. Thomas Remer, this research demonstrated for the first time the anabolic potency of the essential nutrient protein. This happened after the scientists examined detailed dietary data over a period of time from age 3 to age 17. The researchers recorded protein intake from dietary surveys and by measuring nitrogen excreted in urea. The researchers collected urine samples every 24 hours and made specific size measurements in children and adolescents starting at age 3. In total, they studied 189 healthy girls and boys.
While daily protein intake had no effect on height in boys and young men due to small increases, a clear correlation was seen in girls. According to the scientists’ calculations, an average increase of about seven grams of protein daily above the recommendations leads to an increase in height of one centimeter on average. “If no increase in height is desired, girls and women at a young age can even achieve a reduction in their later adult height by a few centimeters by adjusting their protein intake to the recommendations, i.e., not increasing their protein intake unnecessarily,” Remer said.
Daily protein intake and interactions with sex hormones in boys
Even at protein levels significantly above the requirement, the nutrient still has significant growth-promoting effects in girls, according to the data. These changes in the body in females do not appear to play a relevant role in boys with protein intakes above requirements. Apparently, in them, significantly stronger effects of sex hormones, including testosterone, on the growth hormone axis leave less room for an additional anabolic nutritional effect from protein. In principle, protein intake should not be significantly above recommendations. For example, 48 grams per day is normal for 15- to 17-year-old female adolescents, the researchers said.
In reality, however, daily protein intake for many children is considerably higher. In some cases, it exceeds the recommended daily amount by 1.7 to 2 times. Possible long-term consequences of a correspondingly high protein intake have not yet been “satisfactorily investigated,” according to Prof. Remer. Only for the bone stability the authors of this study could observe positive connections with increased protein admission in past research. This was true provided that the fruit and vegetable intake was not too low and thus the dietary acid load was not too high.