Do inflammatory foods damage muscle mass in older people?

Wednesday, 31 January, 2024

Do inflammatory foods damage muscle mass in older people?

New research has found a link between diets containing inflammatory foods and the symptoms of muscle degeneration in older people.

Dietetics graduate Corey Linton at the University of the Sunshine Coast undertook three years of PhD research, with his paper published in the journal Nutrients. It examined the level of inflammatory foods in the diets of older people living in their own homes and the corresponding symptoms of muscle degeneration.

The takeaway from the study is that if someone is aged over 65 and having trouble unscrewing a jar or climbing a staircase, they should check their diet for inflammatory foods.

“Those adults who recorded lower numbers on the dietary inflammatory index had higher muscle mass and strength compared to those with higher numbers on the index,” Linton said.

“While there is ample research into other factors influencing muscle health, from exercise to genetics, this study examined associations with people’s diets, in particular with foods considered inflammatory or anti-inflammatory.

“The findings reinforce Australian nutrition guidelines which recommend that we all eat five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit daily and balance our diets as much as possible.”

Linton said diet was an important consideration as the rate of chronic musculoskeletal diseases such as sarcopenia (loss of muscle strength and function) continued to increase among aging Australians.

“Muscle health can be overlooked as a chronic disease, but these participants told us how important it is to their daily lives, to enable independence and living in the community,” he said.

His findings were based on 200 adults aged between 65 and 85 recording what they ate in one 24-hour period, noting foods with positive or negative inflammatory effects such as vegetables, fruit, meat products, herbs and spices, raw and processed products.

“We then assessed their musculoskeletal health, grip strength, walking and gait, and scanned their bone density and body composition using the university’s gold-standard DXA machine,” he said.

PhD supervisor and UniSC Senior Lecturer in Nutrition and Dietetics Dr Hattie Wright said food was a modifiable tool that could be used “a lot more” to assist healthy aging.

With an aging population, it is vital to understand what people can do to maintain their independence, health and quality of life as they grow older.

The research, co-authored by Dr Wright, Dr Dan Wadsworth and Dr Mia Schaumberg, was funded through a UniSC-Sunshine Coast Council Regional Partnership Agreement.

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