Too Much Protein In Middle Age Is 'As Bad As Smoking,' Study

By R. Siva Kumar - 21 Jan '15 08:41AM
  • Protein-based food
  • (Photo : REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth) Lynn Backens, 54, prepares breakfast in her roadside cafe, The Glider, along the A419 near Frampton Mansell, south west England September 5, 2013.

Most high protein diets help in weight loss. With unlimited consumption of proteins and a reduction of carbohydrates, they have known to lead to loss of weight, according to medindia.com.

However, the latest study shows that the impact of protein on longevity could be as "harmful to health as smoking"! While this conclusion is based on a study conducted last year, the findings are beginning to catch the public eye again.

Protein constitutes the majority of human cells, such as bone and muscle. A protein has 'building blocks' called amino acids. Of the 22 amino acids, 8 are essential as our cells cannot make them, and we need to get them from foods. Hence, we should eat the right kind and amount of protein everyday in order have the right proportion of growth, keep bones healthy, and the production of hormones as well as the brain.

There are two types of proteins---animal and plant proteins. The animal foods, such as meat, cheese and eggs are called primary proteins, as they contain the basic amino acids and induce growht. Plant protein sources are pulses, legumes, lentils, tofu and other soya products, which are incomplete and do not contain all the essential amino acids. It is believed that they have to be eaten in the right combination in order to supplement the body's essential requirements.

Earlier research showed that there is a link between cancer and red meat, however, this is the first time that a link between protein and cancer has been demonstrated. You could develop cancer by smoking about 20 cigarettes a day---and also by eating too much protein.

The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Southern California, who found that "people consuming a high protein diet were 74 percent more likely to die of any cause within the study period as compared to people on low-protein diet."

 The study also showed that they were many more times likely to be affected by diabetes. This was applicable for anyone below the age of 65 years. But the trend was reversed for people above 65 years. The study was published in the journal Cell: Metabolism.

However, a number of scientists have condemned this study. "Sending out [press] statements such as this can damage the effectiveness of important public health messages," says Gunter Kuhnle, a food nutrition scientist at Reading University. "They can help to prevent sound health advice from getting through to the general public. The smoker thinks: 'Why bother quitting smoking if my cheese and ham sandwich is just as bad for me?" according to the week.co.

Still, the report by USC is based on some research. By taking pre-existing information from a large national survey of health and nutrition in the US known as NHANES III, the team studied about 6,300 persons above 50 and studied their habits for more 18 years, even analyzing their death rates and cause of death.

According to the protein intake, they subdivided the categories. They found that the group consumed a high-protein diet were four times more likely to die from cancer, and also twice due to any cause. The moderate group had a three-fold chance of cancer deaths.

Plant consumers ate a diet that did not induce growth hormones as efficiently as meat proteins.

However, among those above 65 years, the high protein intake showed a 60% decreased threat cancer death, and a 28% reduction from other causes. Even those who had moderate protein intake, the same effect was seen.

One of the lead researchers, Dr. Valter Longo said "We provide convincing evidence that a high-protein diet - particularly if the proteins are derived from animals - is nearly as bad as smoking for your health."

However, the best kind of protein diet to extend life span, would be the Mediterranean diet, which is low in animal protein and high in carbohydrates.

Dr. Eileen Crimmins, a co-author of the study commented "The research shows that a low-protein diet in middle age is useful for preventing cancer and overall mortality. 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."

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