Live Longer: Don’t Eat Animal
Proteins in Middle Age, Wait Until You are Senior Citizen
Middle-aged people who eat lots of
proteins from animal sources - including meat, milk and cheese - more
susceptible to early death in general
Like many residents of Molochio, a small Italian town which has one of
the highest prevalences of centenarians in the world, Salvatore Caruso,
108, maintained a low-protein plant-based diet for the majority of his
March 5, 2014 – Okay, here is the
latest research pointing the way to a longer life. Eating a diet rich in
animal proteins during middle age – about age 50 to 65 – makes your four
times more likely to die from cancer than those eating a low-protein
diet. But, don’t make skimping on protein a life-long habit. Senior
citizens at about age 65 need to switch to more protein in their diet,
which will protect them from disease.
The researchers made these
deductions after tracking a large sample of adults for nearly two
decades. They estimate that eating a lot of
animal proteins in middle age creates a mortality risk factor comparable
“There’s a misconception that
because we all eat, understanding nutrition is simple. But the question
is not whether a certain diet allows you to do well for three days, but
can it help you survive to be 100?” said corresponding author Valter
Longo, Edna M. Jones Professor of Biogerontology at the USC Davis School
of Gerontology and director of the USC Longevity Institute. Longo has a
joint appointment at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and
Not only is excessive protein
consumption linked to a dramatic rise in cancer mortality, but
middle-aged people who eat lots of proteins from animal sources —
including meat, milk and cheese — are also more susceptible to early
death in general, revealed the study published today in Cell
Protein-lovers were 74 percent more
likely to die of any cause within the study period than their more
low-protein counterparts. They were also several times more likely to
die of diabetes.
But how much protein one should eat has long been a
controversial topic - muddled by the popularity of protein-heavy diets
such as Paleo and Atkins. Before this study, researchers had never shown
a definitive correlation between high-protein consumption and mortality
Rather than look at adulthood as one monolithic
phase of life, as other researchers have done, the latest study
considers how biology changes as we age and how decisions in middle life
may play out across the human life span
Three antioxidants - resveratrol, genistein and baicalein - are used or studied as anti-aging treatments and to treat
heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteopenia and osteoporosis and chronic hepatitis; resveratrol found in red wine is in 44 clinical trials as
potential treatment for even Alzheimer’s disease - March 20, 2012
In other words, what’s good for you
at one age may be damaging at another. Protein controls the growth
hormone IGF-I, which helps our bodies grow but has been linked to cancer
susceptibility. Levels of IGF-I drop off dramatically after age 65,
leading to potential frailty and muscle loss. The study shows that while
high-protein intake during middle age is very harmful, it is protective
for older adults: those over 65 who ate a moderate- or high-protein diet
were less susceptible to disease.
The latest paper draws from Longo’s
past research on IGF-I, including on an Ecuadorian cohort that seemed to
have little cancer or diabetes susceptibility because of a genetic
mutation that lowered levels of IGF-I; the members of the cohort were
all less than 5-feet tall.
“The research shows that a
low-protein diet in middle age is useful for preventing cancer and
overall mortality, through a process that involves regulating IGF-I and
possibly insulin levels,” said co-author Eileen Crimmins, holder of the
AARP Chair in Gerontology at USC. “However, we also propose that at
older ages, it may be important to avoid a low-protein diet to allow the
maintenance of healthy weight and protection from frailty.”
Crucially, the researchers found
that plant-based proteins, such as those from beans, did not seem to
have the same mortality effects as animal proteins. Rates of cancer and
death also did not seem to be affected by controlling for carbohydrate
or fat consumption, suggesting that animal protein is the main culprit.
“The majority of Americans are
eating about twice as much proteins as they should, and it seems that
the best change would be to lower the daily intake of all proteins but
especially animal-derived proteins,” Longo said. “But don’t get extreme
in cutting out protein; you can go from protected to malnourished very
Longo’s findings support
recommendations from several leading health agencies to consume about
0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight every day in middle
age. For example, a 130-pound person should eat about 45 to 50 grams of
protein a day, with preference for those derived from plants such as
legumes, Longo explained.
The researchers defined a
high-protein diet as deriving at least 20 percent of calories from
protein, including both plant-based and animal-based protein. A
“moderate” protein diet includes 10 to 19 percent of calories from
protein, and a low-protein diet includes less than 10 percent protein.
Even moderate amounts of protein
had detrimental effects during middle age, the researchers found. Across
all 6,318 adults over the age of 50 in the study, average protein intake
was about 16 percent of total daily calories with about two-thirds from
animal protein — corresponding to data about national protein
consumption. The study sample was representative across ethnicity,
education and health backgrounds.
People who ate a moderate amount of
protein were still three times more likely to die of cancer than those
who ate a low-protein diet in middle age, the study showed. Overall,
even the small change of decreasing protein intake from moderate levels
to low levels reduced likelihood of early death by 21 percent.
For a randomly selected smaller
portion of the sample - 2,253 people - levels of the growth hormone
IGF-I were recorded directly. The results showed that for every 10 ng/ml
increase in IGF-I, those on a high-protein diet were 9 percent more
likely to die from cancer than those on a low-protein diet, in line with
past research associating IGF-I levels to cancer risk.
The researchers also extended their
findings about high-protein diets and mortality risk, looking at
causality in mice and cellular models. In a study of tumor rates and
progression among mice, the researchers showed lower cancer incidence
and 45 percent smaller average tumor size among mice on a low-protein
diet than those on a high-protein diet by the end of the two-month
“Almost everyone is going to have a
cancer cell or pre-cancer cell in them at some point. The question is:
Does it progress?” Longo said. “Turns out one of the major factors in
determining if it does is protein intake.
Morgan Levine, Jorge Suarez and
Pinchas Cohen of USC Davis were co-authors of the study.
The research was funded by the
National Institute of Aging of the National Institutes of Health (grants
numbers AG20642, AG025135, AG034906, P30AG017265 and T32AG0037) and a
USC Norris Cancer Center pilot grant given to Longo.
The original report on the research
was written by Suzanne Wu, USC Davis
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