New Findings on Frailty and Diet: Higher Protein Consumption Linked to Lower Incidence of Frailty Among Women Aged 65 to 79
For older women, eating enough protein every day could mean the difference between becoming frail or remaining stronger and better able to maintain independence.
Frailty is a serious health problem for older women. In addition to the way it negatively affects a woman's lifestyle, frailty is linked to increases in hip fractures, hospitalizations, disability, and death.
New Research in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society
The results of a new study show that older women whose diets include higher amounts of protein are less likely to become frail than women whose diets are lower in protein. In the study, the researchers defined frailty as having three of these challenges: Low physical function, low physical activity, weakness/exhaustion, and unintended weight loss.
The study included 24,417 women aged 65 to 79, all of whom were free of frailty symptoms when the study began. The women reported their dietary intake by completing a standardized food questionnaire. After three years, the researchers determined that 13.5 percent of the women had become frail, and after analyzing their food intake and accounting for dietary measurement error using a biomarker of protein intake, the researchers discovered that for each 20 percent increase in usual protein intake, there was a 32 percent lower risk of frailty.
How does protein help keep women stronger? "Higher protein intake preserves muscle mass-and that not only preserves your strength, but may also reduce the risk of falls and fractures," says Jeannette Beasley, PhD, MPH, RD, lead author of the study and staff scientist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.
What's the right amount of protein?
Getting enough protein depends on a woman's physical condition, weight, and other factors. But generally speaking, older women should aim for getting two or three ounces of protein at each meal. This translates, for example, into eating two eggs and a yogurt for breakfast, four ounces of tuna for lunch and 4 ounces of chicken for dinner.
"Older women should talk with a health care specialist, such as a registered dietitian, to be sure they're consuming the amount of protein that's appropriate for their needs," advises Dr. Beasley.
Good to know: Eat a little protein at each meal, suggests Dr. Beasley. "Consuming three or four ounces of lean meat at breakfast, lunch and dinner is better than having a 12-ounce steak for dinner when it comes to preserving your strength," she says.
The above summary is from the full report titled, "Protein Intake and Incident Frailty in the Women's Health Initiative Study." It is in the June 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society-Volume 58, Issue 6). The report is issued by Jeannette M. Beasley, PhD, MPH, RD, Andrea Z. LaCroix, PhD, Marian L. Neuhouser, PhD, Ying Huang, PhD, Lesley Tinker, PhD, Nancy Woods, PhD, Yvonne Michael, PhD, J. David Curb, MD, and Ross L. Prentice, PhD.