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Elderly Women Need More Protein Than Generally Recommended, New Study Suggests


The dietary protein requirement for elderly women might be too low for optimal health, according to a new study. Older women could benefit if today’s dietary protein recommendation added 29 percent more protein.


The recommended dietary allowance for all women 19 years and older is 0.36 grams for each pound of body weight. That’s 46 grams of daily protein for a 130-pound woman.

“The current dietary reference intakes for elderly adults rely on data collected from younger people and extrapolated to include elderly people. Also, the scientific method used for the last 50 years to determine protein needs is not an ideal technique for older adults,” said Wayne W. Campbell, nutrition science professor at Purdue in a March 24, 2014 press release.

Purdue University researchers studied six women, ages 80 to 87 years. The women drank beverages with 20 amino acids, the building blocks for high-quality proteins, including phenylalanine and tyrosine. They consumed the drinks on seven testing days during the three-month study, and researchers measured protein amounts in the women’s bodies.

“When you don’t have enough of these amino acids in your diet, your body will not be able to produce as much protein,” Campbell said. “When these women ate small amounts of the amino acids, the amount of carbon dioxide containing the tracer isotope was higher in their breath because the phenylalanine was being broken down instead of being used to make proteins. As the amounts of amino acids increased, the amount of carbon dioxide with the tracer was lower because their bodies were able to synthesize more proteins.”

Getting healthy amounts of protein is important for older adults because of the natural muscle loss that occurs as we age. Protein helps build muscle. Losing too much muscle can cause weakness, instability and increase fall risk.

“As people get older, they need fewer calories so they eat less food and they eat less protein,” Campbell said. “The proportion of calories with protein stays constant unless you dramatically change eating habits, which few people do. More research is needed to determine the best amount of protein for people older than 70 to consume to help retain their functional abilities and health.”

For more about what physical therapy can do to help people build and preserve muscle, strength, flexibility, balance and posture as they age, contact A Physical Therapist, Inc.

A Physical Therapist, Inc., is a one-on-one physical therapy clinic in Delray Beach, Fla., and Harrisburg, Penn. For patients in Palm Beach County, A Physical Therapist, Inc., is easily accessible from Boca Raton or Boynton Beach. For patients in Dauphin County, A Physical Therapist, Inc., is easily accessible from Hershey and Marysville.

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