Supercharge Your Diet to Avoid Frailty and Many Deadly Diseases

Dr. Frank Shallenberger, MD

March 2, 2020



One of the most significant problems people face as they get older is losing muscle and bone. You know the score. This leads to weakness, loss of balance, and the increased likelihood of falling and breaking a bone.

These problems lead to less vigorous forms of activity, which serve only to make the former problems even worse. It's a vicious cycle that ends in weakness and frailty. No one wants that. So what are some really simple things you can do that will help break that cycle?

First, we have to know what frailty is – and how serious it is. Fortunately, a group of researchers at the Luxembourg Institute of Health have been working to develop a universal definition of frailty. This will help us know how much frailty can predict our risk of other diseases. So far they have some bad news and some good news. 

The researchers did a literature review of frailty scores. In all, they looked at 5,294 participants over the age of 60. They analyzed 35 measures of frailty to see what they could predict. In particular, they looked at cardiovascular disease, cancer, and overall mortality. 

First, the bad news. Frailty is very dangerous. The researchers were able to link every frailty score to mortality. If you’re frail, you’re at high risk of dying. It’s that simple. In particular, you’re more likely to die of cardiovascular and heart disease.

Now for the Good News

None of the frailty measures were linked to an increase in cancer risk. That might not seem like really great news, because dead is dead no matter what brings it on. However, there’s more good news. This study helps doctors know what to look for to decide if you’re excessively frail. And if you are, it’s time to get rolling and turn things around.

This Diet Boosts Bone and Muscle Strength

A new study shows you how important diet is for staying strong. New research presented at the Endocrine Society’s 100th annual meeting indicates that diet plays a key role in helping us maintain strong bones and muscles. This study focused on women, but the results are true for men too.

You’ve probably heard of the Mediterranean diet before. This diet is characterized by  fruits and vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, seeds, and fish. It limits dairy, saturated fat, and red meat intake, but it does include moderate consumption of red wine. It’s popular because it’s linked to lowering the risk of many diseases, including cardiovascular issues, diabetes, and cancer (and that red wine recommendation probably doesn’t hurt either). Plus, people that live near the Mediterranean have become famous for the long, healthy lives many of them lead.

Now, new research shows us that the Mediterranean diet can actually be tremendously beneficial for women’s body composition after menopause, when declining estrogen can cause women to lose bone and muscle mass rapidly.

Brazilian researchers investigated the diet’s potential in 103 postmenopausal women.  The women were 55 years old on average and had experienced menopause an average of 5.5 years earlier. The researchers measured the women’s bone mineral density, total body fat, and appendicular lean mass, which allowed them to get an idea of their skeletal muscle mass. They also asked the participants to fill out a food questionnaire to evaluate their eating habits over the past month.

They found that the more closely the participants adhered to the Mediterranean diet, the higher their bone mineral density and muscle mass. This association held true regardless of whether the women had tried hormone therapy, smoked, or exercised regularly.

One Important Tweak That Makes the Mediterranean Diet Even Better

When battling frailty, I have one more piece of advice. A brand new article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says eating the right breakfast can make a big difference.

A recent summit of nutritional experts looked at the advantages of high-protein meals in combination with physical activity. Their conclusion was that in order to avoid muscle and bone loss, we should be eating at least 25-30 grams of protein per meal. And the meal they picked on most was breakfast.

In their words, “For many older adults, breakfast is a carbohydrate-dominated lower-protein meal and represents an opportunity to improve and more evenly distribute daily protein intake.” They go on to explain that the plant-based, high-carbohydrate diets of cereal, toast, and fruit that so many people have for breakfast is the problem. Why?

It’s because plant-based meals don’t have enough of the amino acid leucine. Amino acids are the building blocks in proteins. According to the authors, “Leucine plays a key role in stimulating translation initiation and muscle protein anabolism.” These mechanisms are how your body promotes muscle and bone growth.

It’s simple. Not enough leucine in your diet and you will lose muscle and bone. And here’s the problem. The authors said, “Although both animal and plant-based proteins can provide the required essential amino acids for health, animal proteins generally have a higher proportion of the amino acid leucine.” So, for many people a plant-based diet, particularly for breakfast, is not likely to stem the tide of muscle and bone loss because it is limited in leucine.

What to Eat for Breakfast

There are two things you can do to help with this problem. One is obvious. Turn in your toast, bagel, cereal, fruit-based breakfast for one that contains a significant amount of animal protein. Here’s what I like to eat for breakfast. I’ll have 1/4 cup of steel cut oatmeal mixed with  yogurt. And then I’ll have two eggs along with some cottage cheese.

I’m a big believer in a large, high-protein breakfast to give you sustained energy throughout the day. If you struggle to get enough protein in your diet, or if you have trouble digesting protein (a very common problem), there’s one more thing you can do to boost your protein intake.

How to Supercharge the Mediterranean Diet

Doing this one thing can help you make sure that you’re doing all you can to maintain healthy bones and muscles as you age. So you need to give your body the building blocks of muscles. Protein helps build muscles. That’s because protein supplies amino acids. Your body breaks down protein from food and rearranges the amino acids to build its own proteins. That’s why protein for breakfast is so important.

But you can save your body a step – and really supercharge your diet – by taking an amino acid supplement. This formula contains eight essential amino acids to help ensure your body has all the building blocks it needs to maintain your muscular, skeletal, enzymatic, and hormonal systems. It’s great for both men and women as they age, as your body can use these very efficiently to build up new muscles. These muscles will help you avoid frailty.

One final note: Whether you want to avoid or reverse frailty, you need strong muscles. Of course, exercise is the best way to build muscle. If you’re frail, you need to work closely with your doctor on this. You don’t want to risk injury or strain your heart. Start slowly.


Paddon-Jones D, Campbell WW, et al. Protein and healthy aging. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Apr 29.

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