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High-protein diet may ward off functional decline

March 11, 2014
by Lois A. Bowers, Senior Editor
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A diet high in protein, particularly animal protein, may help older men maintain a higher level of physical, psychological and social functioning, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

"Identifying nutritional factors that contribute to maintaining higher-level functional capacity is important for prevention of future deterioration of activities of daily living," says Megumi Tsubota-Utsugi, PhD, MPH, RD, of the National Institute of Health and Nutrition in Japan. “Along with other modifiable health behaviors, a diet rich in protein may help older adults maintain their functional capacity.”

Research suggests that as people age, their ability to absorb or process protein may decline. To compensate for this loss, protein requirements may increase with age. Tsubota-Utsugi and her colleagues at Tohoku University and Teikyo University in Japan wondered whether protein intake might affect the functional capabilities of older adults.

To answer the question, they studied 1,007 people with an average age of 67.4 years. Participants completed food questionnaires at the start of the study and seven years later. They were divided into four groups according to their intake levels of total, animal and plant protein. Tests of higher-level functional capacity included social and intellectual aspects as well as measures related to activities of daily living.

Men in the group eating the highest amount of animal protein experienced a 39 percent decreased chance of experiencing higher-level functional decline than those in the group eating the lowest. These associations were not seen in women. No consistent association was observed between plant protein intake and future higher-level functional decline in either sex.

Read the press release.

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