Winter 2019

Understanding Is Protection

A message from the director of the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging.

A few weeks ago, I was giving Lance Robertson, U.S. assistant secretary of aging, a tour of the HNRCA and by chance we encountered one of my favorite research volunteers. At 95, she is a model of vitality and provides great motivation for us to continue our mission of using nutrition science to support healthy aging. She also reminds me that part of the HNRCA mission is to provide self-empowerment tools that allow people to live longer and more independently.

An American who turns 65 can expect to live another 20 years, on average. During this stage of life, people too often swap concerns about work with worries about health, with the fear of falling at the top of the list. This is a legitimate concern—borne out by statistics that show one in three women and one in five men are at risk of a fracture in weakened bones.

But as Marie Curie once said: “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” The best protection against falls is to maintain muscle mass and strong bones with exercise and nutrition. Nutrition plays an important role: Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and foods high in calcium and protein. It also helps to add a vitamin D supplement, especially during seasons when you have less exposure to the sun.

Two contributing factors to falls are osteoporosis (weakened bones) and sarcopenia (reduced muscle mass). The HNRCA has provided some of the most important early research on both conditions and is now home to several young investigators who will certainly play an important role in the treatment of these conditions for decades to come.

One of the world’s leading experts on osteoporosis is the HNRCA’s Bess Dawson-Hughes. Her seminal work recognized the key role vitamin D plays—with calcium—in strengthening bones. Her pioneering efforts have greatly influenced one of our emerging leaders, Kyla Shea, who takes a team-science approach to slowing the progression of age-related osteoarthritis though nutrition.

Roger Fielding, associate center director and head of our Nutrition, Exercise Physiology and Sarcopenia (NEPS) Laboratory is a recognized leader on sarcopenia (see Warning: Falling Strength Ahead). Expertise runs deep in the NEPS lab, where Donato Rivas and Michael Lustgarten (see Top Docs) are advancing the study of muscle, while Kieran Reid is developing innovative ways to bring this knowledge into the community.

The ground-breaking work of our senior scientists is providing a strong foundation for our younger investigators to build on. And that is how we’ll continue to increase our scientific understanding, and alleviate fears, in the years to come.

Sarah Booth, Ph.D.
Director, Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging

Top Stories

Top Docs

Nine nutrition experts who are doing big things with their Ph.D.s.

Is Calorie Counting Dead?

For a century now, dieters have been trying—and failing— to lose weight by obsessively tracking the calorie content of everything they eat. There has to be a better way.

The Unstoppable Frances Stern

How Stern’s first-of-its-kind nutrition center became a model for other clinics and a training ground for generations of dietitians devoted to the cause.

Editor's Picks

Warning: Falling Strength Ahead

Researchers take a crucial step in the fight against muscle loss.

10 Things You Need to Know About Fiber

A nutritional epidemiologist separates the facts from the hype.

The Fridge-in-the-Classroom Test

Could putting refrigerators in classrooms lead to healthier snacks?