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Higher Meat Consumption Linked to Better Senior Functioning

Update Date: Mar 12, 2014 04:28 PM EDT

Beef may make grandpa's life easier, according to a new study. Scientists have linked high protein diets to better physical, psychological and social functioning in seniors. The findings reveal that this is especially true for a diet high in animal protein.

The rising elderly population caused by longer life expectancies means that more seniors will be living in functional decline that affect their cognitive ability and daily living. Researchers said the latest study is important because disability among the elderly affects the health and wellbeing of seniors, their caregivers and health resources.

Previous studies reveal that the ability to absorb protein declines with age. However, researchers believe that this can be compensated by greater protein consumption. Lead researcher Megumi Tsubota-Utsugi, PhD, MPH, RD, of the National Institute of Health and Nutrition in Japan, and her colleagues in Tohoku University and Teikyo University, Japan, wanted to see if protein requirements increase with age. They wanted to see if protein intake affects the functional capabilities of older adults.

The latest study examined protein intake and future decline in higher-level functional capacity in 1,007 Japanese adults with an average age of 67.4 years. Participants were asked to complete food questionnaires at the beginning of the study and seven years later. Participants were also asked to complete tests that measured higher-level functional capacity related to social and intellectual abilities and daily living

Researchers divided participants into four groups according to the level of their total, animal and plant protein consumption.

The findings revealed that men who ate the most animal protein were 39 percent less likely to suffer higher-level functional decline than those who ate the least amount of animal protein. Researchers noted that this link was not seen in women, and intake of plant protein.

"Identifying nutritional factors that contribute to maintaining higher-level functional capacity is important for prevention of future deterioration of activities of daily living," Tsubota-Utsugi said in a news release. "Along with other modifiable health behaviors, a diet rich in protein may help older adults maintain their functional capacity."

The findings are published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

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