Aging Options

Two studies find that diets high in animal protein important for seniors

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Between the ages of 50 and 65, eating a diet high in animal protein makes you four times more likely to die from cancer according to a recent study.  But after age 65, two studies have found that a high protein diet protects individuals from disease.

Researchers in the first study tracked a large sample of adults for nearly two decades and found that a high protein diet in middle age created a mortality factor comparable to smoking.  That study out of USC Davis School of Gerontology found that protein lovers were 74 percent more likely to die of any cause during the course of the study as compared to their lower protein counterparts.  Their incidences of diabetes-related death also increased.

Rather than look at adulthood as one very long phase, the study broke it up into phases.   What it found was that incidences of cancer and overall mortality dropped when protein consumption dropped in middle age.  During that same period of time, plant proteins such as legumes do not have the same negative effect as the animal protein.

Americans, as a whole, eat twice as much protein, especially animal protein, as they need.  The study found that people who ate a moderate amount (defined as 10-19 percent of calories from protein) were three times more likely to die of cancer than those who ate a low-protein (less than 10 percent of calories from protein) diet.  Even a small change in the consumption of protein could reduce the likelihood of early death by 21 percent.

However, all that changes once an individual hits 65 or so.  Researchers believe that aging may reduce the body’s ability to process protein.  This suggests that to continue to obtain benefits from protein, an increase in protein consumption must correspond with our aging according to researchers out of two Japanese universities.

Men who consumed the highest levels of animal protein in their study had a 39 percent decreased odds of experiencing higher-level functional decline than those with the lowest levels of protein consumption.  The same association was not seen in women and no association was observed between plant protein intake and functional decline in either sex.

This is another example of what might be good for one stage in a person’s life may not be good in another age or vice versa.  Gerontologists have known for quite some time that older individuals don’t process protein as well as younger people.  The study confirms what most people understand inherently and that is a child’s body is not the same as a young adult’s body which is not the same as a middle aged adult’s body which is still again not the same as a senior’s body.  If you want the best care for whatever stage of life your body is in, you need to hire someone who specializes in that stage of care.  For seniors, that means you need to hire a geriatric physician.

Having a geriatric physician on your health care team is so important that some Elder Law Attorneys have added priority to a list of geriatric physicians for their clients as part of their overall advocacy.  If you need help finding a physician in your area that specializes in geriatric care, contact our office and we’ll provide you with a list.

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