Protein and amino acid supplementation in older humans

Fukagawa NK
Department of Medicine, University of Vermont, Colchester Research Facility, 208 South Park Dr. Room 173, Colchester, VT, 05446, USA

The aging process is a continuum throughout life and often associated with deterioration of body function as well as accumulation of chronic disabilities and of disease. The impact of nutritional status on morbidity and mortality is unquestioned. Malnutrition increases the risk for frailty and nutritional deficits can influence immune status, response to medical treatments and recovery from acute illnesses, including surgery. Health-promoting interventions implemented individually, such as exercise programs, preventive home visits, comprehensive geriatric evaluation and management, and attention to adequate nutrition with or without nutritional supplements, have been shown in separate studies to be both feasible and effective in reducing age-related deterioration. Protein and its constituent amino acids (AA) are key components of any healthy diet. Sarcopenia, the slow but progressive loss of lean muscle mass associated with advancing age, has been the focus of many studies but there is no clear-cut answer to the question of how to restrain the process. The more general question of how the requirements for protein and specific AA change with age continues to be investigated. A shift towards studying the efficacy and safety of specific AA or combination of AA that may sustain and/or enhance physiologic processes, ranging from specific tissue metabolism to overall function (e.g. exercise performance, immune function, cognition, and chronic disease development) has occurred. This review focuses on recent studies examining the use of specific AA or mixtures as supplements in the elderly and whether/how AA may assist in the maintenance of health and independence.