A low-sulfur diet could help you live longer, and eating less meat could be the key
- Consuming too much of a certain amino acid, found in animal protein, has been linked to a variety of age-related chronic illness, according to new research.
- Most Americans consume far more than the recommended amount of these protein building blocks, called sulfur amino acids, the study found.
- Researchers suggest a plant-based diet can help regulate excess amounts of sulfur amino acids, leading to better cardiovascular and metabolic health.
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Protein is an important macro-nutrient, whether you're a body builder or an average desk jockey. But there can be too much of a good thing. New research has found that getting too much protein in your diet, particularly from animal sources, can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Sulfur amino acids, building blocks of protein found in chicken, eggs, and other animal products, are essential for your health and metabolism. But the average American eats more than 2.5 times the amount of sulfur amino acids required for health, and the excess may be linked to aging-related chronic disease, according to a new study, published Monday in EClinical Magazine.
Researchers from Penn State University College of Medicine looked at data from 11,576 participants in the the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a CDC project that studied the health, demographics, and diets of Americans aged two and older from 1988 to 1994.
They found that higher intake of sulfur amino acids was linked to higher risks for cardiovascular illness based on their levels of cholesterol, insulin, and glucose. In contrast, people who consumed less animal proteins, and therefore fewer sulfur amino acids, showed lower levels of cholesterol and signs of both better kidney function and better insulin resistance.
This was true even after adjusting for demographics and variables like age, other health issues, and lifestyle risk factors such as smoking.
Sulfur amino acids are found in chicken, turkey, eggs, and cheese
Amino acids are building blocks of protein essential to our health. Sulfur amino acids comprise two specific types called cystine and methionine, both of which are found in high-protein foods like chicken, turkey, eggs, yogurt, and cheese.
They can also be found in some seeds and whole grains, notably sesame, soy products, and buckwheat.
Previous research in animals has shown these compounds are important for growth, metabolism and overall health.
However, studies have also shown that reducing sulfur amino acids can lead to better cardiovascular health and a longer lifespan in lab animals.
"For decades it has been understood that diets restricting sulfur amino acids were beneficial for longevity in animals," John Richie, coauthor of the study and a professor of public health sciences at Penn State College of Medicine, said in a press release.
These results point toward benefits of lower-protein, plant-based diet, researchers say
According to participants' surveys, diets high in sulfur amino acids tended to be rich in certain types of nutrients, like protein, calcium, B vitamins, and other vitamins found in animal products. But they also tended to be lower in specific food groups like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
As a result, researchers noted that eating a higher proportion of plant-based foods, especially vegetables, could help balance out the level of dietary protein. And it might be that lower levels of sulfur amino acids might explain the benefits typically shown in studies of vegetarian diets, compared with standard American eating habits.
"People who eat lots of plant-based products like fruits and vegetables will consume lower amounts of sulfur amino acids. These results support some of the beneficial health effects observed in those who eat vegan or other plant-based diets," Zhen Dong, lead author on the study and College of Medicine graduate, said in a press release.
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