A new study by Japanese scientists, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, March 13, 2014, finds benefits of protein-rich food, like fish and meat, for physical and mental health of aging men.
According to the study, which included over 1,000 older people, the men who consumed the highest amounts of fish and meat, lowered the risk of physical and mental deterioration by 39%, compared with the men with the lowest amounts of animal protein in their diet.
The same correlation didn’t seem to apply to women. Nor did men derive identical benefits from vegetable protein, the study shows.
However, the authors didn’t provide a definite proof that the men’s health improvements considered in the study were a result of eating fish and meat, or that low animal protein consumption speeds up the decline. It is merely an observational study that indicates a correlation between protein in diet and functional deterioration, without establishing any strict cause and effect ties.
Still, the study suggests that sufficient protein consumption is important for aging people. The ability to digest protein may be reduced with age, therefore protein intake amounts need to be increased, the authors say.
Animal protein is easier to digest and assimilate than vegetable protein, thus it can be more effective for slowing down the age-related process of losing lean muscle.
The study team headed by Megumi Tsubota-Utsugi, National Institute of Health and Nutrition, (Tokyo, Japan), analyzed the answers of 1,007 adults (both male and female) with average age of 67, to a number of questions about their usual food and eating habits, including animal protein consumption, at the beginning of the research and 7 years after.
The participants were split into 4 groups according to the amount of fish and meat on their regular menu. Their social and intellectual activity was also evaluated.
At the end of the seven-year period, around ¼ of the participants admitted deterioration of thinking and other abilities. But men, whose animal protein intake was the highest, had 39% lower risk of intellectual and physical decline, than those who ate the least fish and meat, the team discovered.
It is hard to account for the reason why women didn’t enjoy the same benefits. A hypothesis, suggested by Connie Diekman, director of nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis, is that animal protein increases the general performance, because men have more muscle mass.
Older people often tend to consume less protein and calories than they need for restraining the loss of essential body fluids and muscle mass. Decline of muscle mass has a detrimental effect on life quality, the immune system and body health in general.
Anyway, it is important to keep the intake within sensible limits, as body organs of older people may not cope with too much protein. Besides, eating huge amounts of red and processed meat may contribute to development of diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, dementia and even ome types of cancer. That is why experts recommend to diversify the sources of protein in the diet with healthier food, like fish, nuts and legumes.
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