Leucine intake and risk of impaired physical function and frailty in older adults

J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2022 Sep 15;glac191. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glac191. Online ahead of print.


Background: Leucine is suggested to play a central role in age-related physical decline, but the effect of dietary leucine intake on physical functioning is uncertain. We examined the prospective association between dietary leucine intake and impaired lower-extremity function (ILEF) and frailty in older adults.

Methods: We used data from 2956 adults aged ≥60 years from the Seniors-ENRICA cohort. At baseline (2008-2010) and in 2012, dietary information was obtained with a validated computerized face-to-face diet history, from which energy-adjusted cumulative leucine intake per body weight was calculated. Participants were followed up through 2017 to assess incident ILEF, ascertained with the Short Physical Performance Battery, and incident frailty, according to the Fried phenotype criteria. Statistical analysis was performed with Cox models adjusted for the main potential confounders.

Results: During follow-up, we identified 515 incident cases of ILEF and 241 of frailty. Compared to participants in the lowest tertile of leucine intake (35.5-89.0 mg/kg/d), those in the highest tertile (107.4-372.5 mg/kg/d) had a lower risk of ILEF [fully-adjusted hazard ratio (95% confidence interval): 0.70 (0.53-0.93), p trend: 0.01] and of frailty [0.63 (0.41-0.96), p trend: 0.03]. A higher consumption of important sources of leucine in this population, including unprocessed beef, oily and white fish, and bread were also associated with a lower risk of incident ILEF and frailty.

Conclusions: Higher leucine intake was associated with reduced risk of ILEF and frailty. Dietary leucine, obtained from foods rich in high-quality protein, could be a key nutrient to prevent age-related physical function decline in older adults.

Keywords: Frailty; Leucine intake; Physical impairment; Short Physical Performance Battery; impaired lower-extremity function.