Unintentional weight loss in the elderly is considered to be a factor that could have a negative impact on health and quality of life. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis examined the effects of dairy protein intake and vitamin D supplementation on the nutritional status and physical fitness of adults aged 55 year or older. The FrieslandCampina Institute interviewed Priya Dewansingh about the research.
“It is increasingly understood that unintentional weight loss in the elderly has a negative effect on quality of life and is a precursor for longer hospital stays. I therefore think that prevention of unintentional weight loss is important to ensure the quality of life of elderly people”, says Priya Dewansingh. She is one of the authors (Dewansingh et al., 2017) of the meta-analyses and systematic review on the effectiveness of dairy components on nutritional status and physical fitness in older adults. Dewansingh: “This review is important because the elderly can experience loss of muscle mass due to ageing and we need to know how to prevent this. There are two main underlying reasons for age-related loss of muscle mass: lower food intake due to loss of appetite or medical treatments, and the presence of chronic disease that has a negative effect on the body making it more prone to loss of muscle mass”.
It is known that physical activity and a varied diet which includes sufficient amounts of energy, protein vitamins and minerals are important for the elderly who may experience age-related loss of muscle mass. As part of a varied diet, dairy products such as milk, contribute to the intake of protein, calcium, phosphorus and vitamin B2 and B12. Therefore Dewansingh et al (2017) reviewed the literature on the effectiveness of dairy components on nutrient status and physical fitness among adults aged 55+.
Double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trials were selected for the review whereby dairy, dairy components and vitamin D were given as supplementation on top of a habitual diet. In total 36 trials with 4947 participants fulfilled the inclusion criteria, and of these, 19 trials have been used for the final meta-analysis. The included trails were carried out in Australia, Brazil, Chili, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States.
“This meta-analysis showed that protein supplementation increased body weight among the elderly by an average of 1.13 kilogram. Our analysis showed that the increase in body weight was higher in the more fragile and less nourished 70+ elderly, or when doses of 20 gram protein or more per day were given. Next to that we found an indication that daily protein supplementation can increase the lean body mass in elderly subjects. As the greatest effects of protein supplementation on body weight were found in fragile elderly who are at higher risk of malnutrition, there is most likely more scope for improvement in this group, compared with the healthier elderly”.
“Vitamin D supplementation can improve the physical fitness of elderly, as indicated by the ‘Timed Up and Go’ test. Most of the studies in the review included a vitamin D supplementation of 10 microgram per day, but larger effects were found with higher doses. The optimal dose probably lies at 20 microgram per day when looking at the effect on muscle strength”.
“Further research should focus on the effectiveness of dairy products on the nutrient status and physical fitness in the more fragile and less nourished elderly. In practice it is more difficult to recruit this group of vulnerable elderly people and that could be a reason why there is little research among this age group. However, from a public health perspective it seems to be of particular importance”.
Dewansingh, P. et al (2017). Supplemental protein from dairy increases body weight and vitamin D improves physical performance in older adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrition Research 49 (2018) 1-22.