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New Studies Show Protein Essential for Cognitive Health

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Protein is one of the three building blocks essential to life, and if you don't get enough, you could be seriously harming your health. New studies have shown just how important protein is for the developing of cognitive function, particularly in the elderly. Find out more about this connection below.

Did you know that higher protein intakes in the elderly can fight cognitive decline?

New studies show that elderly individuals who eat a diet higher in protein had better memories, improve cognitive performance, and less risk of developing mental diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. Of course, there are many things a person can do to increase their memory and prevent cognitive decline as they age. A healthy diet with a high concentration of vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats with minimally processed foods will provide the building blocks for the brain.

Exercise, sun exposure, and keeping the brain active all work to support the brain as it retains old memories and forms new memories. Several new studies also link high protein intake with less cognitive decline as a person ages. This makes monitoring protein intake even more important as a person ages.

Luckily, there is a fairly simple formula for determining the ideal intake of protein, based on age, activity level, and other basic factors. Learn more about these new studies and what other steps you can take to protect your memory below:

The Role of Protein

Protein is an essential building block for hormones, bones, muscles, and the brain. Protein is one of the main instruments in forming intelligent life. Protein is one of the most essential building blocks for optimal health. Protein is used for many things in addition to brain health. Protein is used for building muscles, organs, and other systems in the body.

Animal protein is the easiest form of protein for humans to use, simply because animals have tissue similar to ours. Protein is also used to increase metabolic function and may even be able to support weight loss.

Studies On Protein and Memory Loss

Studies show that as a person ages, their absorption of protein declines. This means, that in some cases, it may be necessary to increase your overall intake of protein to absorb the same amount used in the body.

A study published in March 2014 in the journal Nature, found that a protein called REST represses neuron-specific genes during embryogenesis. This simply means that the protein protects the brain against the oxidative stress and misfolded protein formation that leads to the development of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. When the researchers tested varying levels of REST in mice, it was found that mice with the highest levels of REST were less sensitive to stressors. REST was even able to reduce cell degeneration and cell death.

Since this study found previously undiscovered results, it still needs additional testing and study in human patients before it can be definitively stated that REST protein is what prevents the development of Alzheimer’s disease. However, it does showcase just how important proteins are in the brain and why it is important to keep protein intake high to protect memory.

A 2013 study published in Science Translational Medicine found that a protein, RbAp48, was responsible for cognitive decline in mice. When the researchers increased the protein in aging mice, their cognitive ability increased. Younger mice naturally had higher levels of protein in their brains.

The Japanese study, published in February 2014, also backs up the claims from the Nature study. In a study of elderly Japanese residents over a period of 7 years, it was found that men who consumed higher levels of animal protein in their diets were 39 percent less likely to have mental and physical decline as they age. The results were not as drastic for women. The researchers suggested that consuming high-quality protein sources were able to preserve muscles essential for daily functioning. It may also be possible that animal proteins contain the REST protein, which is used to protect the brain from oxidative stress.

In 2012, another study also found similar results. In this study, researchers found that between people aged 70 to 89, individuals with the highest protein intake had a reduced risk of cognitive decline of 21 percent.

Another 2014 study published in Cell Metabolism looked at the role of high protein diets in middle-aged and elderly individuals. The study examined the diets of nearly 7,000 individuals between 50 and 90 years of age. What the researchers found was surprising to them. In the elderly group, individuals older than 60 had a 60 percent lower risk of developing cancer and a 28 percent lower risk of death when they ate a diet high in protein. However, individuals in the 50-year-old group actually had an increased risk of developing health problems if they ate a diet with more than 20 percent protein. Since protein levels decline as a person ages, the researchers surmised that increasing protein intake during aging makes up for the reduced production in proteins.

However, younger individuals make more proteins, which could lead to an overabundance of protein in the body when eating high protein diets.

Study Discussion

These studies, and studies like them, all indicate that a higher intake of protein in the diet can have a protective effect on memory. Although the human studies were observational, there is reason to believe that a diet higher in protein can reduce a person’s chances of facing memory loss as they age. However, there may also be other factors at play. For example, a person who eats a diet higher in protein may eat less sugar, which is damaging to the brain; or may be avoiding more processed foods. In general, increasing the intake of protein will reduce a person’s intake of carbohydrates, which is likely beneficial to overall health.

How Much Protein Should I Eat?

Getting the right balance of protein in the diet can be tricky. As the study above illustrates, too much protein at a young age can be just as detrimental as not enough protein at an older age. The studies above show that individuals under the age of 60 should probably aim for less than 20 percent of protein in their diets. More than that could pose health risks. Older adults, however, can benefit from larger intakes of protein to as much as 30 percent of dietary intake.

According to a 2006 study conducted by the McGill Nutrition and Food Science Centre in Canada, elderly persons should ideally consume about 0.45 to 0.6 grams of protein for every pound of bodyweight. This is about 90 grams for a 150-pound adult. A younger person should aim for about .45 grams of protein per pound of body weight, which is about 68 grams of protein for a 150-pound person. An 8-ounce steak contains about 60 grams of protein. An egg contains about 6 grams. Individuals who exercise on a regular basis and pregnant women may need up to 25 percent more protein.

Women who watch their calorie intake may not get enough protein in a day. The average woman should eat about 60 grams of protein per day. This is equal to an 8-ounce steak, but many women eat far less protein than that in a day. If a woman eats yogurt for breakfast, salad for lunch, and a small portion of meat and vegetables at night, she may be consuming somewhere in the range of 40-50 grams of protein. Women should take particular care to ensure they are getting the right balance of protein each day.

Protein: Essential for Memory

Protein is an essential building block for cognitive function. As a person ages, they produce less protein, requiring a higher intake from outside sources. Although these studies did show that a higher protein intake was most essential for men, women should also make sure they are getting enough protein in their diets. Getting the right nutrients, eating plenty of healthy fats, and ensuring protein intake is adequate will provide the right mix of nutrients to keep your memory intact as you age.





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