TOKYO—A diet rich in protein, particularly animal protein, may help elderly individuals delay the onset of functional decline, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Researchers at the National Institute of Health and Nutrition in Japan conducted a prospective study to determine the association between protein intake and risk of higher-level functional decline in older community-dwelling adults. Analysis included 1,007 individuals with an average age of 67.4 years who completed food questionnaires at the start of the study and seven years later. Participants 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 highest quartile of animal protein intake had a 39% decreased chance of experiencing higher-level functional decline than those in the lowest quartile. No association was seen in women; no consistent association was observed between plant protein intake and future higher-level functional decline in either sex.
"Identifying nutritional factors that contribute to maintaining higher-level functional capacity is important for prevention of future deterioration of activities of daily living," said lead researcher Megumi Tsubota-Utsugi, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D. “Along with other modifiable health behaviors, a diet rich in protein may help older adults maintain their functional capacity."
A 2012 study published in Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found people age 70 and older who consume foods high in carbohydrates have nearly four times the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment. The findings also suggested the risk also increases with a diet heavy in sugar. Interestingly, those whose diets were highest in fat, compared to the lowest, were 42% less likely to face cognitive impairment, and those who had the highest intake of protein had a reduced risk of 21%. When total fat and protein intake were taken into account, people with the highest carbohydrate intake were 3.6 times likelier to develop mild cognitive impairment.