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03/18/2019 HYU News > Academics


Protein Supplementation Improves Physical Performance In Undernourished Elderly Subjects

Professor Park Yong-soon (Department of Food and Nutrition)


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The existing theory towards the physical performance of the elderly was that decrepitude could only be tackled by providing nutrition alongside a certain level of physical exercise. Professor Park Yong-soon (Department of Food and Nutrition), however, has managed to go against this existing belief, proving that protein supplementation itself, irrelevant to any levels of physical exercise, can help overcome decrepitude by preventing muscle loss of the undernourished and frail elderly population. With her recent research even being published in the renowned academic journal, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN), Park has been recognized for her breakthrough in tackling the long problems associated with decrepitude.
Professor Park Yong-soon (Department of Food and Nutrition) explains her recent research on the impact of protein supplementation and the physical abilities of the undernourished elderly.
Having selected 120 elderly subjects, Park provided them with 0.8, 1.2, and 1.5 grams of protein on a daily basis for 12 weeks. The protein was provided in the form of powder dissolved in a corn silk tea solution. The protein powder was carefully selected, due to the weakened digestive system of the seniors and, thus, it was essential that the powder had a high purity of protein in order to ensure that the subjects took in the required amount of additional nutrition. Furthermore, Park also implemented strict dietary control, keeping track of the total amount of nutrition that her subjects were ingesting daily.

The subjects were also carefully selected by Park. Focusing only on those aged between 75 and 85, the subjects all had to pass a certain "Power Test," which evaluated their physical abilities such as the time it takes them to walk four meters and how much time it takes them to sit down and stand up. Selecting 120 out of a total screening of 400, Park closely examined the changes in physical abilities among the selected subjects, being able to successfully prove that the supplementation of protein itself does have a positive impact on the physical abilities of the frail elderly.
The diagrams show how the subjects were randomly assigned protein supplements during the research period.
(Photo Courtesy of Park)

According to Park, as the research was conducted in the form of a clinical demonstration, there were many hardships that had to be overcome. A basic clinical demonstration included observing the process of giving selected subjects a certain substance and analyzing the results. However, as it is literally impossible to have total control over the subjects, unexpected variables occur, especially with elderly subjects being relatively more vulnerable to external factors. “Many of the subjects had to quit due to sudden accidents or illnesses. We also had to deliver the products to them door to door in order to prevent any mistakes,” explained Park.

Although Park has proven the positive impacts of protein supplements upon the frail elderly, she stated that she is now working on finding the most ideal amount, as the current research only provided fixed amounts of 0.8, 1.2, and 1.5 grams of protein for its subjects. In addition to her further research, Park also showed her hopes of changing the current Body Mass Index (BMI) standards, asserting that it is debatable whether the elderly should have the same standards as younger adults. She explained that standards for the elderly should be changed, as a certain amount of fat has been proven to be healthier for them.     
As a nutrionist, Park hopes to further extend her research to find the ideal protein supplement amount and to revise the current BMI standards. 

Choi Seo-yong
Photos by Park Guen-hyung
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