Especially As You Age
By Joel Thuna
Protein is one of the pillars of good health. It is one of the three major macronutrients in our diet that we need in significant quantities. Proteins are complex molecules composed of strings of different amino acids. Your body breaks down the protein you consume to create over 10,000 different proteins that keep your body functioning. Most women shy away from consuming protein, assuming that it will make them look like “HULK.” This assumption is far from the truth. Bodybuilders achieve their appearance through a combination of dedicated nutrition and rigorous exercise. No amount of protein will turn you into the Hulk.
Why You Need Protein
Protein plays a crucial role in various vital processes within your body. Apart from supporting your fitness goals, protein is used to create all the enzymes and hormones necessary for your body. It is a fundamental component of every cell in your body.
Protein is the building block of your hair, skin, nails, cartilage (the tissue that makes up your nose, ears, and protects your joints), and muscles, including your heart. The antibodies that maintain your immune system’s function are proteins. These are just a few reasons why it is essential to ensure you get enough protein.
Getting Enough Matters
From newborns to octogenarians and beyond, both men and women need adequate protein. However, women are more likely to consume less-than-optimal amounts of protein at every age. The health consequences of inadequate protein intake may not manifest immediately, but their effects can accumulate and become devastating later in life.
There are numerous reasons why everyone should consume enough protein, including increased energy levels, stress management, maintaining lean muscle, and improving immune health, among others. For perimenopausal, menopausal, and postmenopausal women, there are additional key reasons to focus on protein consumption.
Elevated protein intake has been shown to lower blood pressure. In 2010, researchers reviewed scientific literature on protein’s relationship with blood pressure and concluded that increased protein intake reduces both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. This aligns with the findings of other studies, including one in 2013 that reviewed 29 studies. Researchers found that substituting protein for carbohydrates has a beneficial effect on blood pressure. Additionally, they found that in “gold standard” clinical trials, the results on blood pressure were similar when using either animal or plant-based proteins.
During and after menopause, women face an increased risk of cardiovascular (heart) disease, which is the leading cause of death in women. This risk is due to changes in hormone levels, body composition, and blood lipid levels, including cholesterol. Data from multiple clinical reviews indicate that consumption of dairy proteins, primarily whey, reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and improves overall cardiovascular health.
Bones, Hair, Skin, and Nails
Protein is a structural component, serving as the building block for connective tissues, bones, hair, skin, and nails. Bone health and density are crucial for women, especially as they age. Sufficient protein intake helps maintain strong bones and minimizes the density loss that comes with aging. Multiple studies demonstrate the positive effect of high protein intake on bone mineral density and bone health. Researchers have concluded that, in addition to calcium and vitamin D, dietary proteins are key nutrients for bone health and the prevention of osteoporosis.
Protein forms the foundation for your complexion, providing structure, rigidity, protection, and water-resistant properties to your hair, skin, and nails. Consuming enough protein helps keep your hair, skin, and nails looking healthy, young, and strong throughout life.
Your muscles, bones, joints, and connective tissues (ligaments and tendons) work together to ensure good balance and movement, enabling mobility. Proteins are essential for healthy bones (half of your bones’ composition is protein), muscles (increased protein contributes to greater muscle strength and mass), and joints (proteins are a significant part of joint cartilage), ligaments, and tendons (all made of protein fibers).
Sarcopenia is the age-related progressive loss of muscle mass and strength, primarily caused by the natural aging process. This natural reduction and weakening of muscles begins in your 30s or 40s (at approximately 1% per year) and accelerates in your 50s. Sarcopenia is a primary cause of frailty, bone fractures, and reduced quality of life among adults, associated with poor endurance, physical inactivity, slow gait speed, and decreased mobility. It is also linked to a 300-400% increased likelihood of physical limitation and disability.
Since protein helps preserve lean muscle and build muscle, it logically follows that protein can help reduce sarcopenia. Consuming more protein is one of the best ways to prevent age-related muscle deterioration and the onset of sarcopenia. Best practices, in addition to increased protein intake, include staying physically active with at least moderate levels of activity. The combination of protein and physical activity is your best defense against muscle loss and weakening.
Your body requires protein to build and repair various body tissues, including muscles, bones, joints, and skin. If you are recovering from an injury, surgery, or illness, remember that protein aids in healing. Consuming optimal protein can expedite wound healing and recovery from illness.
Age-related decline in cognitive and mental performance has become a major societal concern for the aging population worldwide. The amino acids in protein play a significant role in the production of neurotransmitters, which are the chemicals allowing your brain cells to communicate with each other. Whey protein, in particular, has been shown to improve both cognitive reaction time and reasoning speed.
There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of types of protein. First, look at your foods and try to expand the variety of lean protein sources. Additionally, consider incorporating lean and clean protein supplements.
The best protein supplements are those made exclusively of hydrolyzed whey protein isolate (not blended with other proteins). Hydrolyzed whey protein isolate is unique in that it is virtually pure protein, containing no carbohydrates, fat, or lactose, and is very easy to digest. It is completely bioavailable and most effective for muscle building and repair.
The one downside is that hydrolyzed proteins tend to be more challenging for brands to flavour. However, a new generation of hydrolyzed whey isolate products is available that are grit-free, non-thickening, not creamy, and easy to flavour. Manufacturers have capitalized on this ease by creating products previously unheard of in the industry, namely zero-fat and zero-carbohydrate all-natural proteins that taste great and are both refreshing and thirst-quenching in unique flavours such as water, lemonade, and watermelon. You can even bake and cook with these.
Supplement wisely and raise a glass of protein to your good health!
Joel Thuna, MH, is a master herbalist with over 30 years of experience. www.globalbotanical.com