Elderly are not getting enough quality protein, warns scientific review

The current recommendations on daily protein intake may not be enough for the elderly and critically-ill adults, an analysis in the Frontiers in Nutrition revealed. According to researchers at the McMaster University in Canada, people can find the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) on the nutrition labels of all processed food products. Food manufacturers have long been required to list the nutritional value of their products. Having said so, these manufacturers were obliged to indicate the percent daily value of the RDA their product meets for specific nutrients. The Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine established these guidelines, which were designed to meet the nutritional requirements of 97.5 percent of the healthy individuals older than 19 years.

However, the research team noted that the RDA on nutrition labels was based on guidelines set in 1968. The experts also stressed that the RDA for protein intake, at about 0.80 grams per kilogram of body weight, was set in 2003. The research team noted that both RDA values might not serve their purpose, especially among older adults and those who were critically-ill.

“A big disservice is being done. The prescribed 0.8 g/kg/day just isn’t enough protein for the elderly and people with a clinical condition. This shouldn’t be communicated as what is ‘allowed’ or even ‘recommended’ to eat. I think it’s clear we need some longer-term clinical trials with older people on higher protein intakes. These trials need to consist of around 400-500 people,” researcher Stuart Phillips was quoted in saying in United Press International.

According to Phillips, the quality of proteins should be taken into account when creating RDA guidelines and setting recommendations for protein supplements. The researcher also highlighted the need to put more focus on an essential amino acid known as leucine. Philips said the elderly population requires higher leucine intake in order to build muscle proteins. Milk-based proteins such as milk and whey are excellent sources of leucine, the researcher added. On the other hand, Philips noted that critically-ill patients who rapidly lose lean body mass may require higher protein intake. According to Philips, high protein intake may specifically benefit older, critically-ill adults.

Studies recommend higher protein intake for the elderly

Previous studies have already established the current guidelines in protein intake are simply not enough to meet the nutritional demands of the elderly population. In fact, a small study published in the American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology and Metabolism revealed that adults 50 years and older may need to double their protein consumption to improve their overall health. As part of the study, a team of researchers at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences examined 20 healthy middle-aged and older adults. The study revealed that participants who doubled their daily protein intake exhibited significant increases in muscle protein synthesis and marked improvements in net protein balance.

Another study conducted by researchers at the University of Stirling in Scotland revealed that people older than 65 years old may need to consume 50 percent to 90 percent more protein with each meal in order to prevent sarcopenia — a condition characterized by gradual loss of muscle mass. The condition was known to be prevalent in the aging population.

“What may be adequate for a healthy, young adult cannot be assumed to have the same effect in the elderly, and indeed it seems that larger amounts of protein are needed in an elderly person to build muscle or protect existing muscle tissue. For some individuals, there will be a place for a protein powders, to add to meals, or have as a protein drink,” Edinburgh-based nutritionist Emma Conroy said in The Scotsman.

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