Animal protein could help elderly maintain higher functioning: study

Thursday, March 13th, 2014. Filed under: Health & Fitness
A new study points to animal protein as a positive aid in preventing cognitive decline. ©Valentyn Volkov/

A new study points to animal protein as a positive aid in preventing cognitive decline.
©Valentyn Volkov/

(Relaxnews) – A new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society indicates diets high in animal protein may help the elderly function at higher levels physically, psychologically, and socially.

Life expectancy has increased in many countries, with more elderly citizens experiencing ability decline. Research has suggested people’s ability to absorb or process protein lessens with age, prompting Megumi Tsubota-Utsugi, PhD, MPH, RD, of the National Institute of Health and Nutrition in Japan, and her colleagues in Tohoku University and Teikyo University, Japan to examine if protein intake affects functional capabilities in older adults.

The resulting study analyzed this relationship and featured 1,007 individuals with an average age of 67.4. Participants completed food questionnaires at the study’s onset and seven years later. Intake of plant, animal and “total” protein was recorded.

Men who consumed the highest amount of animal protein intake had a 39 percent decreased chance of experiencing decline compared to those whose intake was lowest. This difference wasn’t seen in women. No link between plant protein intake and functional decline was apparent in the men or the women.

“Identifying nutritional factors that contribute to maintaining higher-level functional capacity is important for prevention of future deterioration of activities of daily living,” said Dr. Tsubota-Utsugi. “Along with other modifiable health behaviors, a diet rich in protein may help older adults maintain their functional capacity.”

Other studies have indicated less-than-optimal health effects from diets high in animal protein. A recent University of Southern California study found a diet high in this protein put middle-aged adults at much greater risk of cancer-related death compared to those with low-protein diets. However, animal protein may still be helpful to older adults:

“The research shows that a low-protein diet in middle age is useful for preventing cancer and overall mortality,” said co-author Eileen Crimmins, AARP Chair in Gerontology at USC. “However, we also propose that at older ages, it may be important to avoid a low-protein diet to allow the maintenance of healthy weight and protection from frailty.”

That study was published in the journal Cell Metabolism.

The Alzheimer’s Association recommends eating cold-water fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel and tuna. Non-animal brain foods it recommends include kale, broccoli, spinach, beets, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, almonds and walnuts.


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