The study suggests that only reducing protein may be an option for diets

The study suggests that only reducing protein may be an option for diets

Reducing your protein intake can help manage metabolic syndrome and some of its main symptoms, such as obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. This was demonstrated by a study conducted by Brazilian and Danish researchers with the aim of comparing the effects of protein and calorie-restricted diets on humans. The results were published in the journal Nutrients.

Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions — including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, a buildup of fat around the waist, and high cholesterol — that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

“The study showed that reducing protein consumption to 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight was sufficient to achieve approximately the same clinical results as a calorie-restricted diet, but without the need to reduce caloric intake. The results suggest that protein restriction may be one of the main factors that lead to the known beneficial effects of food restriction. Thus, a protein restriction regimen may be a more attractive and relatively simpler dietary strategy pursued by individuals with metabolic syndrome,” says Rafael Ferraz-Panitz, Ph. ) and the first author of the article.

The study was funded by Fapesp through a Ferraz-Bannitz PhD grant and a thematic project coordinated by Professor Marcelo Morey, of Unicamp (State University of Campinas), which aims to simulate the effects of calorie restriction through various strategies.

The investigation involved a multidisciplinary and international team with scientists from the University of the South Pacific, University of Copenhagen (Denmark), INCA (National Cancer Institute) and OCRC (Centre for Research on Obesity and Comorbidities) – a center for research, innovation and dissemination of Fapesp. In Unicamp.

For 27 days, the researchers followed 21 patients diagnosed with metabolic syndrome. The volunteers were divided into two groups and were kept in the hospital at the Hospital das Clínicas da FMRP-USP for the duration of the period, so that the diet could be carefully monitored and followed.

Each participant’s daily caloric requirement was calculated based on basal metabolism (resting state energy expenditure). In one group, patients were given an individualized diet that contained 25% fewer calories than was considered optimal. In this case, the food was selected according to the norm recommended for the general population (50% carbohydrates, 20% protein, 30% fat).

In the second group, daily calorie intake was also calculated individually based on basal metabolism. And although the specific caloric value for each individual was respected (it was never exceeded), the proportion of protein in the diet was reduced, remaining about 10% (60% carbohydrates and 30% fat). An important fact is that there was no difference in the use of salt. In both groups, patients consumed 2 grams of salt per day.

The study showed that both calorie-restricted and protein-restricted diets promoted weight loss due to reduced body fat and thus improved symptoms of metabolic syndrome. It is known that lower fat mass is associated with lower blood sugar, lipid levels, and blood pressure.

After 27 days of observation, both groups had similar results: lower blood glucose levels, weight loss, blood pressure control, and lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels.

Both a calorie-restricted diet and one that reduced protein consumption improved insulin sensitivity after treatment. The patients also had a decrease in body fat, particularly in the abdominal area and hip circumference, but without a decrease in fat-free mass. [músculos]’,” says Maria Cristina Vos de Freitas, professor at FMRP-USP and study coordinator.

The results confirm previous research in mice. “But this time, we were able to run a fully randomized, controlled, 27-day clinical study, with a menu customized according to the needs of each patient,” Vos de Freitas confirms.

In this way, it would have shown humans that it is sufficient to manipulate the macronutrients of a diet – protein, fats or carbohydrates – to obtain the beneficial effects of food restriction. “We have seen that protein restriction is sufficient to reduce body fat and maintain lean mass. This is very important, because in many restrictive diets, weight loss is also associated with reduced muscle mass,” comments Ferraz-Banitz.

The study did not describe the molecular mechanisms that might explain the beneficial effects of a protein-restricted diet, but the researchers hypothesize that minimal protein consumption promotes a change in patients’ metabolism, or improves the body’s energy capacity to provide burn. Energy and fat as a form of energy production for cells.

“We have only hypotheses left, and one of them is the activation of molecular pathways that explain the reduction of essential amino acids as a sign of decreased food intake, leading to increased hormone production naturally during fasting. Studies in animal models have already shown that these pathways are involved in the effects of diet. The calorie-restricted and protein-restricted diet results in fat loss either way,” says Morey.

Even with promising results, it is necessary to pay attention to the fact that the study was based on the use of individual diets. Morey also notes that the research was conducted on a specific demographic: metabolic syndrome patients with diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

“However, it is hard not to think about extrapolating this result. We know that a vegetarian diet has been shown to be positive in cases of metabolic syndrome, and it has also been verified that excess protein intake, as in the Western standard, can be problematic.” Therefore, it is necessary to evaluate each case individually. One cannot forget that a lack of protein can lead to serious problems – something that is already well described in the case of pregnant women, for example, ”he says.

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