Switching from animal protein to plant protein may help to reduce frailty among older women, suggests a new study.
Frailty is a common condition in older adults and, as the population ages, its prevalence is increasing. People with frailty can often experience low energy levels and weak muscle strength. This is one of the reasons why they are at an increased risk of injury from knocks and falls.
The study was published in the Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia, and Muscle. It found that a higher intake of plant protein was associated with a reduced risk of frailty in women aged over 60.
The findings also indicate that replacing animal protein with plant protein might help to avoid the development of frailty.
Current literature indicates that older adults are at an increased need for protein. But it hasn’t been very clear whether getting enough protein can prevent frailty. It also hasn’t been clear whether different types of proteins have a different effect on this outcome.
In the large-scale cohort study, researchers analyzed data from more than 85,000 women aged 60 and over. The women participated in the Nurses’ Health Study, which is one of the largest studies investigating risk factors for chronic diseases in women.
In the study, frailty was defined as having at least three of the following five criteria from the Fatigue, Resistance, Ambulation, Illnesses, and Loss of Weight (FRAIL) scale: fatigue, low strength, reduced aerobic capacity, five or more chronic conditions, and loss of weight of five percent or less.
The researchers assessed the occurrence of frailty every four years between 1992 to 2014. They measured dietary intake by using food frequency questionnaires on nine different occasions.
When assessing protein intake, the main food sources of plant protein identified were bread, cereals, pasta, nuts, beans, and legumes. The main sources of animal protein included processed and unprocessed red meat, poultry, fish and seafood, eggs, and dairy.
The researchers identified more than 13,000 cases of frailty.
Substituting five percent of animal protein, dairy protein, or non-dairy animal protein (including protein from meat and eggs) with plant protein was associated with reducing the risk of frailty by 38 percent, 32 percent, and 42 percent respectively.
The researchers also found that substituting dairy protein for non-dairy animal protein was associated with a 14 percent lower risk of frailty. They concluded that the substitution of animal protein, especially non-dairy animal protein, for plant protein was associated with a lower risk of frailty.
A previous study conducted in 2020 also analyzed data from the Nurses’ Health Study. It found that lower consumption of red and processed meat were associated with a lower risk of frailty. A lower sodium intake and a higher ratio of monounsaturated to saturated fat were also factors.