Posted by Denise on 11 15th, 2009 | 174 responses

What Are The Health Benefits Of Protein?

When most of us think about the health benefits of dietary protein, its role in bodybuilding comes to mind—and rightly so. No new body tissue can be built without it. However, research also suggests that the intake of high-quality protein in the context of an overall healthful diet may also have positive effects on our body weight and body composition as we age, as well as play a role in the prevention of chronic diseases such as heart disease, certain types of cancer, and osteoporosis.

  • Weight Management: Studies have shown that achieving a healthy weight and maintaining that weight can help add years to your life, and scientists believe that dietary protein may play an important role in weight management. High-protein diets may promote significantly more weight loss compared to lower protein diets because of protein’s role in promoting satiety. In a fairly recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers studied the effects of increasing dietary protein while maintaining carbohydrate content on weight loss, appetite, calorie intake, and fat mass in a small group of study participants. Initially, participants were instructed to follow a weight-maintaining diet (50% carbohydrate, 15% protein, 35% fat) for two weeks. Then for the following two weeks, they were asked to follow a diet providing the same amount of calories but with 50% of calories coming from carbohydrate, 30% from protein, and 20% from fat. Two weeks later, they were given an ad libitum diet of  50% carbohydrate, 30% protein, and 20% fat to follow for an additional 12 weeks. Even though subjects could eat as much food as they wanted in those 12 weeks, they actually reduced their calorie intake by an average of 441 calories per day. They also lost an average of 10.8 pounds in body weight and 8.2 pounds of body fat.
  • Age-Related Muscle Loss: After about age 40, most adults will lose anywhere between 0.5% and 1% of their skeletal muscle mass each year. And in the early years, this gradual loss may go unnoticed because it might be masked by a concurrent increase in body fat. However, chronic muscle loss—or what is known as sarcopenia—is estimated to affect  about 30% of people over age 60 and may affect more than 50% of those over age 80. Insufficient protein intake in older adults can contribute to a loss of muscle, and although the optimal amount of protein to prevent or offset the progression of sarcopenia has yet to be established, research findings suggest that protein intakes modestly above the present recommended dietary allowance of 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day (i.e. 1 gram per kilogram of body weight per day or higher) enhance muscle mass in older adults who regularly perform resistance exercise. Protein intake in older adults also appears to have a more beneficial effect when consumed within an hour or so of resistance exercise. Emerging research also suggests that dairy protein, especially whey protein, may minimize sarcopenia because of its high concentration of leucine, an amino acid known to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. For example, findings in older adults suggest that increasing leucine intake may help restore the protein synthesis response to protein-containing meals, which has been shown to diminish with age.
  • Cardiovascular Disease: One concern that has been raised about the trend in high-protein diets for weight loss has been that eating diets high in protein and fat, and low in carbohydrate, would harm the heart. However, recent research findings suggest that if done in a healthy way, eating a little more protein, especially vegetable protein, while cutting back on refined carbohydrates may actually benefit the heart. A 20-year prospective study of 82,802 women found that those who ate low-carbohydrate diets high in vegetable sources of fat or protein had a 30% lower risk of heart disease, compared to women who ate high-carbohydrate, low-fat diets. But women who ate low-carbohydrate diets that were high in animal fats or proteins did not have a reduced risk of heart disease.
  • Cancer: There’s no good evidence that eating a little protein or a lot of it significantly influences cancer risk. However, eating a lot of red meat (cured and processed meats, in particular) has been linked to an increased risk of colon cancer. There also has been considerable investigation of the potential of soy-protein-containing foods to reduce the risk of cancer, especially breast cancer. In a fairly recent review of studies based on Asian populations, higher soy intake was associated with an overall 29% decreased risk of breast cancer. Despite these positive findings, the relationship between soy foods and breast cancer risk has been controversial because of data gathered from cell culture and animal studies that suggest isoflavones (the plant-estrogen-like compounds in soy foods) stimulate the growth of estrogen-sensitive breast cancer cells. This has led to questions about the safety of soy consumption in women with a history of breast cancer or women at high risk for the disease. Research continues in this area, but it’s important to point out that several lines of existing evidence suggest that women with breast cancer can safely consume soy. First, human studies have shown that isoflavones do not stimulate breast cell proliferation or increase breast tissue density (two markers of increased cancer risk), and a lack of harmful effects have been noted in several clinical studies examining the impact of soy food intake on the prognosis of breast cancer patients. In one study, neither soy nor isoflavone intake was related to the disease-free survival rate of breast cancer patients over a five-year follow-up period, and in a second study, higher soy intake was associated with a more favorable outcome for both total mortality and disease-specific mortality or relapse during a follow up period of two years. And even better news is that the benefit of soy food intake on survival was more pronounced among women with estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer. Although these studies are encouraging, breast cancer remains a very serious health condition. Women with a history of breast cancer should seek the advice of their doctor concerning the consumption of soy foods as part of an overall healthful diet.
  • Osteoporosis: Prevention of osteoporosis is a public health priority and among nutritional factors, most attention has focused on the beneficial role of calcium. However, in addition to calcium, many other nutrients are necessary for bone health, including protein. Findings from many, but not all, epidemiological studies point to a beneficial role for dietary protein in bone health. High-protein intakes have been associated with reduced bone loss, high bone-mineral density, and reduced fracture risk in older adults. In a recent trial, increasing protein intake, especially when accompanied by calcium and vitamin D, reduced bone loss, improved muscle strength, and shortened the hospital stay in older patients with hip fractures whose usual intake of dietary protein was low.On the other hand, some studies suggest that excessive dietary protein intake may have detrimental effects on bone because of its effect on urinary calcium excretion. This controversy may be explained by other nutrients in food or the source of dietary protein. For example, dietary protein has been shown to exert a positive effect on the skeleton of older adults when calcium intake is adequate, but not when calcium intake is low.Because protein exists in close association with other nutrients in the diet, it is important to consider protein’s role in bone health in the context of foods or the overall dietary pattern. A number of studies have demonstrated that intake of milk and other dairy products benefits bone health. Dairy products such as milk are a unique source of protein because their calcium content is high relative to their protein content and they contain other bone-supporting nutrients such as phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, and vitamins A, D, and K.

Source: Shaklee Health Sciences.  Thanks for your interest. Denise

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