Review of the Changing Protein Requirements for Seniors
Youth, it is said, is wasted on the young. Too busy figuring life they hardly take the time to enjoy it. Fortunately, with medical research and scientific progress, lifespans have doubled over the last century. We can now start life at fifty and have another go at youth. Health consciousness, appropriate diet and exercise, can make the later years of life a pleasant experience. Dietary principles play as especially important role in this regard. Compensating for the physiological changes of aging, they can give us better odds at achieving our genetically determined lifespans.
The advancing years experience a complex interplay of changes affecting the mind, body, and the environment. Alterations in organs systems and cellular function can often predispose to malnutrition and a host of chronic illnesses (Servan 1999). Some of these problems can be attributed to the decrease in the total protein content and are in themselves preventable with appropriate attention to the protein content of the diet.
A decrease in protein turnover, such as that seen in aging, has far reaching effects (Chernoff 2004). Vital organ systems like the heart and lungs slow down, becoming incapable of further exertion. Neural processes like thought, planning and cognition are also affected. The immune system becomes weak, exhibiting a delay and difficultly in dealing with infections (Thompson 1987). Wound healing and repair, which requires a constant supply of amino acids, is also compromised.
Another issue associated with aging is the reduced capacity to deal with free radical species. These highly reactive molecules are produced by cells under stress. Free radicals can precipitate a chain reaction, damaging cell membranes and the genetic code. They have been implicated in a variety of disease processes from infection, heart attacks and cancer. This inability to handle free radicals is also responsible for aging. It is now believed a high protein diet can be helpful in attenuating many of these problems (Chernoff 2004).
Merely providing proteins through regular diets fail to meet the special requirements of the elderly. A protein supplement is often needed to ensure easy digestion, rapid absorption and assimilation. The protein supplement should also be of good quality and contain all the essential amino acids in adequate quantity. Such a supplement can adequately provide essential amino acids irrespective of the gut's ability to assimilate them. Such a protein supplement will be able to address the increase protein demand and malnutrition seen in the elderly, restoring the ability to build and repair tissues. A good protein supplement also has other significant benefits in the elderly that often go unrecognized.
A high protein diet has a 'thermogenic' or fat-burning effect. The body spends more energy to assimilate protein than carbohydrates or fats. This energy is often derived from the adipose tissue, thus burning fat in exchange for protein (Bloomgarden 2004). Then if the protein supplement has whey in it, it can also inhibit cholesterol absorption in the gut, reducing the risk of obesity and cardiac disease (Nagaoka 1996). Protein supplements that have casein can form a clot in the gut, thereby slowing down intestinal motility (Boirie et al. 1997) and giving the gut enough time to absorb all the amino acids from a meal. This property is important considering that aging also slows down and compromises digestion.
Protein supplements that combine casein with whey multiply the advantages of each component. Both casein and whey protein have a group of substances called kinins that can lower blood pressure by relaxing the blood vessels (FitzGerald, 2004.). Both proteins enhance the immune system through several mechanisms (Ha and Zemel, 2003). Lactoferrin, in whey protein, binds iron and depriving many micro-organisms of a growth stimulus. Free iron induces the formation of free radicals and is one factor responsible for colon cancer. This is also prevented by protein supplements that contain lactoferrin (whey).
Whey also has other antioxidants to offer. It is rich in cysteine, a precursor of Glutathione that is potent at mopping up free radicals (Counous, 2000). This generalized improvement in antioxidant capacity can counter cancerous and aging processes seen in the later years of life. Whey protein is also known to enhance memory as it promotes the synthesis of a neurotransmitter, serotonin that is involved in cognition and thought (Markus 2002). Milk basic protein, a component of whey, has the ability to stimulate proliferation and differentiation of bone forming cells as well as suppress bone resorption as found in vitro and animal studies. This can protect against weak bones, or osteoporosis, especially in the post-menopausal women (Toba 2000).
Thus there is extensive medical literature in support of a high protein, casein and whey supplement in the elderly population. These studies have also failed to document any major adverse effects with long-term intake of such supplements. Such a supplement can go a long way in making the later years of life more productive and fruitful.
Founded in 2001, Protica, Inc. is a nutritional research firm with offices in Lafayette Hill and Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. Protica manufactures capsulized foods, including Profect, a compact, hypoallergenic, ready-to-drink protein beverage containing zero carbohydrates and zero fat. Information on Protica is available at http://www.protica.com
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