New project on sex differences in protein needs in old age

The project’s aim is to study associations between protein intake, muscle mass and physical functioning which might lead to new guidelines for dietary protein intake for both male and female in old age.

02/25/2019 | 2:31 PM

In January, VU researchers Hanneke Wijnhoven and Laura Schaap of the Department of Health Sciences and postdoctoral researcher Liset Elstgeest started a new project on protein needs of older men and women. Through a ZonMw grant (part of NWO) they could start the project, which is part of the Gender and Health program. The project's findings are expected at the end of 2019.

Liset Elstgeest and colleagues are examining data from the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam (LASA) and an American cohort study to investigate whether the protein needs of men aged 55 years and older differ from those of  women of similar age. The project’s aim is to study associations between protein intake, muscle mass and physical functioning which might lead to new guidelines for dietary protein intake for both male and female in old age (in grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day).

Loss of muscle mass and muscle function
Aging is associated with a gradual loss of muscle mass and muscle function with a subsequent decline in physical performance. Low protein intake is one of the factors that is likely to affect this decline. Previous studies have shown that low protein intake is associated with muscle mass loss and a decline in physical functioning in old age. In addition, protein needs of older adults are higher compared to those of younger adults.

Differences between man-woman
The current guideline for protein intake (0.8 grams of protein per kilogram body weight per day) makes no distinction between men and women, while sex differences in body composition or hormones can influence protein needs in old age. Women have relatively more fat mass and less muscle mass compared to men of the same height. Protein needs expressed per unit of body weight may therefore be lower in women than men.

New guidelines
After completion of the study, the results might be used for new guidelines for protein intake for both male and female in old age. These guidelines are, of course, intended for, of course, the elderly themselves, but also for dietitians, geriatricians, scientists and the food industry.

Other project members from the VU and VUmc are Marjolein Visser (Department of Health Sciences) and Martijn Heymans (Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics), and also involved are Denise Houston(Wake Forest School of Medicine, North Carolina, United States), Elke Naumann (HAN University of Applied Science, European Federation of the Association of Dietitians) and Carlijn van Aalst (senior organization KBO-PCOB).