Elderly at the Risk of Cancers due to High-protein Diet

May 21, 2014

Over the years, various high protein diets have become a fad with people to build their muscle mass and lose their weight and body fat at the same time.  These people consider a high-protein diet as a healthy choice and a key to a long and healthy life.  Millions of middle-aged Americans feast on steaks, cheeseburgers and other protein-rich foods everyday.  But a recent study suggests that diets high in meat and cheese when eaten in middle age can shorten people’s life spans.

The protein found in meat, cheese, eggs and other animal products could cause the aging of the body cells and cause tumors.  Dr. Valter Longo from the University of Southern California says – “ We studied simple organisms, mice, humans and provide a convincing evidence that a high-protein diet- particularly if the proteins are derived from animals is nearly as bad as smoking for your health.

High protein diets as risky as smoking

The US nutritionists recommend that the healthy protein intake is about 10-35 % of our daily calories consumption, that is about 46 grams for an adult female while about 56 grams for an adult male in their diet every day.

The consumption of excess protein (over 35% of total calories) can lead to the build up of toxins called ketones, a type of sugar or glucose that is the body’s major source of energy where it uses its own fat cells for fuel in the absence of sufficient carbohydrates. This can consequently harm the kidneys as they try to excrete ketones by a corresponding loss of water through kidneys leading to subsequent dehydration.

A ketogenic diet can lead to fatigue, headaches, dizziness, heart palpitations, and bad breath.  When there is excess stress on the heart, the muscle mass and the bone calcium both decline.  The American Heart Association also does not recommend high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets because they often contain high-fat foods and can lead to other nutritional deficiencies.

A study published in Cell Metabolism recently stated that not only is the excessive protein consumption leads to a dramatic rise in cancer mortality but middle aged people who tend to eat lots of proteins from animal sources become more susceptible to early death in general.  The study also found that people with a high protein diet were seventy four percent more likely to die of any cause within the study period than their low-protein counterparts.

They were also several times more likely to die of diabetes. But this trend appeared to reverse for those who are 65 years or older.  The co-author from USC Gerontology professor, Eileen Crimmins suggests in the same research that a low-protein diet should be avoided during old age to allow the maintenance of healthy weight and protection from frailty.

The research was conducted on 6831 middle aged and older adults and it was found that the subjects who reported more than twenty percent of their calories from animal protein were four times more likely to die of cancer or diabetes. A moderate-protein diet was associated with a three-fold increase in cancer deaths. But these effects were either abolished or completely reduced on individuals eating a plant based high-protein diet.

What is the protein-cancer connection?

The protein intake influences our levels of the growth hormone called IGF-1 that not only hybrids the growth of healthy cells but also encourage cancer cell growth. According to the researchers for every 10-mg/ml increase in IGF-1, people who ate high protein diets were 9% more likely to die from cancer than those on a low-protein diet. Some other additional causes like the low level of activity of these factors, decline in the body weight with aging also leads us to believe that the older people not only did not benefit but also appeared to do worse if they ate a low-protein diet.

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