Past research suggests that as people age, their ability to absorb or process protein may decline. To compensate for this loss, protein requirements may increase with age, according to researchers.
To test whether protein intake affects the functional capabilities of older adults, Megumi Tsubota-Utsugi, Ph.D., M.P.H., RD, of the National Institute of Health and Nutrition in Japan, and her colleagues at Tohoku University and Teikyo University, designed a study that included 1,007 adults in Japan.
The participants, who had an average age of 67.4 years, completed food questionnaires at the start of the study and seven years later. They then were divided into four groups according to their intake levels of total animal and plant protein.
“Tests of higher-level functional capacity included social and intellectual aspects, as well as measures related to activities of daily living,” the researchers said.
The researchers found that men in the highest quartile of animal protein intake had a 39 percent decreased chance of experiencing higher-level functional decline than those in the lowest quartile. These associations were not seen in women, the study found.
The researchers also found no consistent association between plant protein intake and future higher-level functional decline in either sex.
“Identifying nutritional factors that contribute to maintaining higher-level functional capacity is important for prevention of future deterioration of activities of daily living,” said Tsubota-Utsugi. “Along with other modifiable health behaviors, a diet rich in protein may help older adults maintain their functional capacity.”
The study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.