High Protein Diet May Keep Elderly Healthy

Men who ate more animal protein had lower chance of functional decline

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) With life expectancy on the rise in many places, people are asking how to stay healthy and high-functioning in older age. A new study suggests that food choices might impact day-to-day living, particularly for men.

Examining the relationship between protein and future decline in abilities, researchers found that a diet high in animal proteins like beef, chicken and fish may help elderly people maintain better mental and physical faculties.

These researchers found that as people age, their ability to absorb or process protein may decline, increasing the amount of protein an individual may need to consume.

In this study, men who ate more animal protein reported less functional decline.

"Consult a doctor about the amount of animal protein in your diet."

This study, led by Megumi Tsubota-Utsugi, PhD, MPH, RD, of the National Institute of Health and Nutrition in Japan, concluded that higher animal protein intake was associated with a lower risk of decline in higher-level functional capacity in older men.

A test group of 1,007 people with an average age of 67.4 years completed food questionnaires at the start of the study and seven years later. The respondents were divided into four groups based on protein intake and were tested on social, intellectual and daily living measures.

During the study, 24.4 percent of participants reported declines in higher-level functional capacity.

Men who ate the most protein had a 39 percent decreased chance of experiencing higher-level functional decline when compared to the group of men who reported eating the least amount of protein.

Functional decline is the reduced ability to perform everyday tasks due to decreasing physical and cognitive abilities with age. For example, muscle loss as you get older may eventually limit movement.

This association was not seen in women.

"Identifying nutritional factors that contribute to maintaining higher-level functional capacity is important for prevention of future deterioration of activities of daily living,” Dr. Tsubota-Utsugi said in a prepared statement.

“Along with other modifiable health behaviors, a diet rich in protein may help older adults maintain their functional capacity,” Dr. Tsubota-Utsugi said.

This study was published Feb. 27 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, a peer-reviewed monthly clinical look at common diseases and disorders experienced by older adults.

The research was funded by several Japanese government agencies, including the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare and the National Center for Geriatrics and Gerontology.

Review Date: 
March 12, 2014
Last Updated:
March 13, 2014