A link between protein intake and frailty

Created date

August 22nd, 2019
An smiling older woman holds a plate of meatloaf.

Eating an adequate amount of protein is associated with a lower risk of frailty and prefrailty in older women, according to research.

 A new study published in the European Journal of Nutrition shows that women who eat enough protein are less likely to be frail.

Frailty in seniors is a condition that affects all bodily systems. It is characterized by the inability to bounce back from illness or major life stressors. Frailty puts seniors at risk for cognitive problems, falls, and numerous chronic medical problems. Estimates show that about 15% of community-dwelling seniors in the U.S. are frail, and 45% are considered in preliminary stages, called prefrailty.

A poor diet with not enough calories is considered a major risk factor for frailty, but there isn’t much data about how dietary protein affects the condition.

Three-year study 

In this study, researchers recruited 440 women ranging in age from 65 to 72 years. They used food records to calculate grams of protein. After three years, the researchers assessed the signs of frailty in the subjects, defined as at least three of the following: low grip strength, low walking speed, low physical activity, exhaustion, and weight loss of more than 5%.

Their results confirmed that eating an adequate amount of protein was associated with a lower risk of frailty and prefrailty in older women. Adequate intake was defined as 1.1 to 1.3 grams per kilogram of body weight (a minimum of 77 grams for a woman weighing about 70 kilograms, which is equal to about 154 lbs). Consuming animal protein in particular was linked to a lower likelihood of frailty.  

The researchers say that although more research is needed, the study emphasizes the need for proper nutrition for older adult women in order to stay healthy.