Beef: Will It Help Your Elder Maintain a Healthier Muscle Mass?

  • The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston conducted a study, written about in a release titled "Where's the beef? Not enough of it is on elders' plates, muscle-metabolism study suggests."


    Um, Texas researchers prove meat is good for you? Hey, I live in North Dakota and we've got two research universities, one of which is a top agriculture university. We've got ranchers. We've got beef. This study is going to have cheerleaders out my way! But wouldn't it be just a tad more impressive if the study had been conducted, say, at a Boston research center? You know, the kind where people would rather think their prime rib popped out of a cow like an egg from a chicken? There'd be a little less conflict of interest, one would think.

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    Actually, I trust these Texas researchers. And, my mom would have agreed with them. Mom was huge on nutrition. My siblings and I were the only kids in the neighborhood who had to eat whole wheat bread and take the original "One a Day Brand" multiple vitamin.


    Mom knew her stuff, and if she were alive to read this study, her response would have been, "They needed a study to prove that?" My folks loved good meat. A tender, rare steak was their version of heaven. Dad liked his cooked "just so it didn't moo." Mom liked hers medium rare. Did this love of meat help them keep muscle mass?


    Douglas Paddon-Jones, an associate professor in UTMB's departments of physical therapy and internal medicine, is the senior author of a paper on this study, which was published in the August issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The study suggests "... a diet containing a moderate amount of protein-rich food such as beef, fish, pork, chicken, dairy or nuts may help slow the deterioration of elderly people's muscles."


    According to the study, "Reducing the decline in muscle mass among the elderly is crucial to maintaining their health and independence ... consuming adequate protein is essential for making and maintaining muscles. Since nutritional studies show that many elderly individuals eat less protein than the average person, researchers have reasoned that if the elderly simply increased their protein intake, they might slow down muscle loss - as long as old age doesn't inherently interfere significantly with the ability to make muscles out of the protein in food."


    The study talks about elders not eating enough meat. Could it be because they have problems chewing? My dad had that problem. Could it be  caused by a decline in appetite? My mom had that.


    Also, there's the facility factor. After my parents could no longer remain safely in their own home, they both lived in an excellent nursing home. However, it was not the type of place where you could order the most tender cuts of beef. It was not a place where you could have it cooked, "just so it doesn't moo." Would Mom and Dad have been able to keep up their steak-eating habits longer, if they'd had the option of ordering just what they wanted, cooked like they wanted it? Would their muscle mass have remained more intact if they'd eaten more meat?


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    I'll never know. But I am glad researchers are studying ways for seniors to stay strong. Researcher Paddon-Jones writes "A high percentage of elderly folks who break a hip or suffer a major injury never get out of bed again, and one of the big reasons is that they rapidly lose so much muscle mass and strength that they become physically incapable of getting up. Sufficient muscle is fundamental for the activities of daily living, movement and independence - it's definitely a quality-of-life issue."


    This study is a good start, but one study never totally clears up a question. So, I suggest that a Boston or New York university now take this on. And the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston should be given the task of studying how being homebound for five months because of knee deep snow affects the muscle mass, and mental health of elders. They could get help with that from anyone living in North Dakota.


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Published On: August 10, 2007