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New Research: Protein Powders Prevent Frailty
By Dr. Jen Morganti, NEEDS Education Director

As the US Baby Boomer generation reaches a certain age, there is increased concern about the eventual financial burden to the medical system. It will become more necessary to sharpen our focus on preventative therapies in order to stay healthy and reduce the need for prescription medications and hospitalizations. One important goal is to prevent frailty. Frailty implies that a person lacks fortitude and resilience, and is at greater risk for disability, illness, falling (and breaking a bone), being dependent on personal care, and an overall increased risk of death.

Frailty is not an inevitable part of aging. There are many factors that have been shown to help prevent frailty, such as exercise, vitamin D, and magnesium. This study, conducted in Japan, looked at the effect of protein from plant and animal sources related to frailty. Over 2,000 Japanese women between the ages of 69 and 79 answered questions about their dietary habits. Their protein intake was calculated and they were assessed for their level of frailty.

A connection was found between low protein consumption and frailty; those who consumed less than 63 grams of protein had over a 30% increased risk of frailty as compared to those who consumed over 84 grams of protein daily. The researchers used exhaustion, weakness, and weight loss (unintentional) as the parameters to define frailty. The researchers also broke out the protein sources between plant and animal sources, and both had similar benefits. In this group of women, fish and shellfish comprised over 39% of the animal protein consumption.

Protein may impact frailty because of its role in immune function, building muscle, and antioxidant protection effects (mainly from plant protein). The resulting amino acids from protein digestion also contribute to a protective effect against oxidative stress.

The good news is that vegetarians aren't necessarily in a compromised position; plant protein is equally effective in preventing frailty. It may be beneficial to incorporate a protein drink in the diet if one finds it difficult to get it entirely from food. Fortunately, there is a wide variety of protein powders available, using soy, rice, pea, hemp, and other protein sources. There have also been big improvements in the flavor and texture of these products, making them more palatable for daily use. You can also view protein powders offered at NEEDS, or you can call a NEEDS Wellness Educator to learn about other options!

Kobayashi S. Nutr J 2013 Dec 19;12:164-9.

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