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Am J Physiol. 1991 Mar;260(3 Pt 1):E345-52.

Protein-induced changes in energy expenditure in young and old individuals.

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Charles A. Dana Research Institute, Beth Israel Hospital, Boston 02215.


Resting energy expenditure (EE) has recently been shown to be reduced in elderly human subjects even after adjustment for body size and composition. The present study extended this examination of EE in relation to age by comparing the thermic effect of a protein meal in young men (YM 20-26 yr, n = 9), old men (OM 70-89 yr, n = 9), and old women (OW 67-75 yr, n = 6). EE was measured before and from 1 to 6 h after presentation of 60 g protein and of a control noncaloric meal on separate occasions. Despite substantial differences in body size and composition, the protein-induced increment in EE was similar in all groups [maximum increase: YM 0.21 +/- 0.05, OM 0.17 +/- 0.12, and OW 0.17 +/- 0.04 (SE) kcal/min]. Although fasting plasma norepinephrine (NE) levels differed among all three groups (YM less than OM less than OW), NE concentrations were not affected by protein ingestion. Because protein administration acutely promotes synthesis of dopamine (DA) and serotonin (5-HT), which are both capable of stimulating EE, blockade of extraneuronal synthesis of DA and 5-HT with carbidopa, a competitive inhibitor of aromatic-L-amino acid decarboxylase, failed to suppress (and actually increased) postprandial EE. These data demonstrate that not all mechanisms responsible for EE decline with age and that protein-induced changes in EE are more a function of the oral load itself than of the size, age, or antecedent diet of the individual ingesting the protein.

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