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Aging Well

Over 65? High Protein Diet Is Protective

This morning a news release from the University of Southern California entitled “Meat and cheese may be as bad as smoking” hit my inbox. Since then, numerous sites around the web have picked up the eyeball-grabbing headline and the accompanying story. If you encountered any of those posts and you’re over 65, don’t be alarmed and don’t cut back on the percentage of protein you eat. Here (with my italics) is the actual title of the USC research paper that was published in the March 2014 issue of the journal Cell Metabolism: "Low Protein Intake is Associated with a Major Reduction in IGF-1, Cancer, and Overall Mortality in the 65 and Younger but Not Older Population."

The USC release, written by Suzanne Wu, begins provocatively like this: “That chicken wing you’re eating could be as deadly as a cigarette”. However, a more balanced release sent out by the publishers begins this way (again, italics mine): “While it's clear that diet can affect longevity, there's great uncertainty about which combinations of foods are best for attaining a long and healthy life. Now two groups of researchers publishing in the March 4 issue of the Cell Press journal Cell Metabolism each suggest that low protein intake may be a key factor, at least until old age”.

Here’s the essence of what the two studies found, one done at USC and the other a collaboration done by researchers at Harvard and in Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Norway:

*Consuming moderate to high levels of animal protein, with more than 20% of their calories coming from animal protein, prompts a major increase in cancer risk and mortality in middle-aged adults under age 50.

*People over 65 have the opposite result. For this age group, the effects on mortality were reversed: those who consumed high amounts of protein had a 28% reduced risk of dying from any cause and a 60% reduced risk of dying from cancer.  

*The researchers of the international study also found that, contrary to popular  opinion, calorie restriction had no beneficial effect on lifespan.  

For people under 50, following the popular high-protein diets such as Atkins and Paleo is probably not a good idea. Yet if you’ve hit the 65 mark, go ahead and enjoy your meat and eggs. They won’t kill you and they just might make you live longer.

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