Nutritional strategies to prevent frailty

With an ageing population comes more frailty and an increased need for the expertise and infrastructure to deal with it. Here is a roundup of the scientifically proven means to alleviate frailty.

Frailty is linked to the functional decline that generally begins after 65 and leads to a loss of independence and a need of assistance in everyday activities. The diagnosis is established when at least three of the following five criteria are observed: weight loss, exhaustion, weakness, slowness and inactivity.

Malnutrition a cause

Calorie and protein intake affect the degree of frailty, as well as vitamins D, E, C, B6 and folic acid. Low intake of the above points to a higher risk of frailty.

To date, no curative care exists to treat frailty. The focus is on prevention and the treatment of symptoms such as sarcopenia (gradual muscle wasting, loss of strength and diminished physical ability in elderly people).

Combining nutritional approaches

Exercise and nutrition are scientifically proven to be the most effective ways to address the issue. According to studies quoted by the authors:

  • Consumption of olive oil is beneficial in reducing inflammation (TNF-alpha and Il-6).
  • Protein supplements (an extra 30g per day from whatever source and amino-acid composition) helps maintain muscle mass, improves walking speed and pace and grip strength. Best results are observed when combined with resistance-based exercise.
  • Vitamin D is particularly useful in strengthening bone structure, improving muscle mass and performance in the sit-to-stand exercise.
  • Long-chain Omega-3 foods help retain muscle mass and improve walking speed and mobility.
  • Several studies have successfully tested combinations of iron, folic acid, vitamin B6, B12, D and calcium or a miwture of L-leucine, cholecalciferol, medium- and long-chain triglycerides.

Finally, giving elderly people dietary advice seems to be effective, especially those suffering from malnutrition.


Sources: Dietary Factors Associated with Frailty in Old Adults: A Review of Nutritional Interventions to Prevent Frailty Development. Hernández Morante JJ, Gómez Martínez C, Morillas-Ruiz JM. Nutrients. 2019 Jan 5;11(1). pii: E102.