The growth of the elderly population is a global milestone. The number of elderly has been increasing significantly in recent years in developing countries, such as Brazil. This is due to a better quality of life and health care, which contribute to greater longevity. Thus, due to the large number of elderly, it is important to look for ways to supply the nutritional contribution of this population. This should occur, since aging is a process that involves a decline in structure and bodily functions in general, which can lead to the development of chronic diseases. Understand below the role of protein, specifically whey protein, in the health of the elderly.
Nutrition is a great ally of the elderly, because a balanced diet can bring many benefits to this group, whether in the prevention or dietotherapy of diseases. In addition, physiologically aging reflects changes in nutrient intake, absorption and digestion.
Protein and Aging
Protein is pointed out as the main nutrient for the health of the elderly, since it helps in a better performance of the organism and in the better quality of life. However, studies indicate that the elderly population has insufficient intake of proteins of high biological value. In addition, the main changes in body composition during the aging process are the progressive loss of muscle mass and the increase in fat mass. The loss of muscle mass and functionality, entitled sarcopenia, contributes to the worsening of several health outcomes, such as metabolic disorders, especially diabetes mellitus 2, as well as greater frailty, related to sarcopenia.
Thus, the literature demonstrates that whey protein supplementation, combined with resistance training, can improve muscle performance by stimulating protein synthesis, a protective factor against sarcopenia and contributing to significant reductions in the risk of cardiovascular diseases, by improving metabolic and cardiorespiratory capacity.
Whey Protein: What is it?
The whey protein fraction is obtained from the serum resulting from the cheese making process through caseification. Serum proteins account for about 15% to 20% of total milk proteins, rich in β-lactoglobulin (35% to 65%) and α-lactoalbumin (12% to 25%). In a smaller amount, it has immunoglobulins (8%), albumin (5%) and lactoferrin (1%) as its main components. It is also rich in branched chain amino acids such as leucine, isoleucine and vain, as well as cysteine. Another point considered is the fact that the serum protein is easily digestible. This rapidly increases the concentration of amino acids in plasma, inducing protein synthesis in tissues.
In what is its commercialization, it can be found in three forms: concentrate (containing lipids and lactose together with proteins – 29% to 89%), isolated (90% protein) or hydrolyzed (partially digested, facilitating metabolism, besides being hypoallergenic).
Recommended Daily Dose (RDA)
The RDA for protein is 0.8 g protein/kg body weight/day for adults, regardless of age. However, it is necessary to consider that this value represents the minimum amount of protein necessary to avoid the progressive loss of lean mass in most individuals. There is evidence that the RDA for the elderly may be greater than 0.8 g/kg/day. And when superior result in an improvement in muscle mass, strength and function in the elderly. In addition, other factors, including immune status, wound healing, blood pressure and bone health can be improved by increasing protein intake above the RDA.
The literature indicates that an intake of 1.5 g of protein/kg/day, or about 15 to 20% of total caloric intake, is a reasonable goal for the elderly population who wish to optimize protein intake in terms of health and function. Thus, whey can be a great ally to meet such needs of the elderly.
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Article on Whey for the elderly: Camargo LDR, Doneda D, Oliveira VR. Whey protein ingestion in elderly diet and the association with physical, performance and clinical outcomes. Exp Gerontol. 2020 Aug;137:110936. doi: 10.1016/j.exger.2020.110936. Epub 2020 Apr 11. PMID: 32289487.