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Life Extension Magazine

LE Magazine January 2007
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Preventing Sarcopenia


Maintain Healthy Muscle Mass As You Age
By Will Brink

Nutritional Strategies for Optimizing Muscle Mass

Several nutrients, including creatine, vitamin D, and whey protein, have shown great promise in combating sarcopenia.

Creatine. The muscle atrophy commonly seen in older adults comes mainly from a loss of fast-twitch (Type II) muscle fibers that are recruited during high-intensity movements, such as weight lifting and sprinting. These are the fibers most profoundly affected by the dietary supplement creatine. Various studies have found that when creatine is given to older adults who are participating in resistance exercise training, it helps increase strength and lean body mass.13-15 According to one research group, creatine supplementation in older adults may help attenuate age-related loss of muscle strength as well as improve one’s ability to perform functional living tasks.14

Vitamin D. While scientists have long known that vitamin D plays an important role in bone health, recent studies suggest that it is also essential for maintaining muscle mass in aging people. Vitamin D helps preserve the Type II muscle fibers that are prone to atrophy in the elderly. Scientists recently noted that vitamin D helps support both muscle and bone tissue, and that low vitamin D levels seen in older adults may be associated with poor bone formation and muscle function. Thus, ensuring adequate vitamin D intake may help reduce the incidence of both osteoporosis and sarcopenia in aging people.16

Whey protein. Many older adults find it difficult to obtain enough high-quality protein from dietary sources. Whey protein, which is derived from dairy products, may help aging adults to optimize their protein intake and protect against muscle loss. Whey has an exceptionally high biological value—that is, it contains amino acids in proportions that are similar to those required by humans. Proteins with higher biological value generally are superior to lower-quality proteins in maintaining muscle mass. One study found whey protein to be especially effective in preserving lean body mass in older adults.17

Sarcopenia: What You Need to Know
  • Sarcopenia, the age-related loss of lean muscle mass, strength, and functionality, can prevent elderly people from performing the most basic tasks of daily living, and greatly increases their risk of suffering falls and other serious accidents.
  • Sarcopenia is a multifactorial disease process that may result from sub-optimal hormone levels, inadequate dietary protein, other nutritional imbalances, lack of exercise, oxidative stress, and inflammation.
  • Preventing and treating sarcopenia requires an integrated approach that incorporates dietary strategies, hormone replacement, nutritional supplementation, and exercise.
  • Older adults should strive to ensure an adequate intake of high-quality protein, abundant consumption of fruits and vegetables, and a reduced intake of cereal grain foods.
  • Because hormonal factors can significantly affect muscle mass, all adults over 40 should undergo annual blood testing to track their hormone levels. If necessary, deficiencies of essential hormones such as growth hormone, DHEA, and testosterone can be addressed using bioidentical hormone replacement therapy.
  • Several nutrients, including creatine, vitamin D, and whey protein, have shown great promise in combating sarcopenia. Other nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, carnitine compounds, and the amino acid glutamine have biological effects that may be beneficial in promoting healthy muscle mass.
  • Regular exercise, particularly weight training, is essential for preserving and increasing muscle mass. In addition to building muscle, strength training promotes mobility, enhances fitness, and improves bone health.

Additional Nutrients of Interest

When developing a comprehensive supplement regimen to prevent or treat sarcopenia, several other nutrients deserve consideration. These include omega-3 fatty acids, carnitine compounds, and the amino acid glutamine. Although scientists have yet to study their specific effects in relation to sarcopenia, these nutrients have biological activities and mechanisms of action that suggest a potentially beneficial role in promoting healthy muscle mass.

For example, the omega-3 fatty acid EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) has been found to preserve muscle mass under various physiological conditions.18 Like EPA, the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) has anti-inflammatory effects, which scientists believe may be of value in managing sarcopenia.19,20

Carnitine formulations are known to help enhance athletic performance and may help promote healthy muscle mass in older adults who are prone to sarcopenia.21 Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body; in combination with resistance training, it has been reported to help increase muscle mass.22

Critical Importance of Exercise

Exercise is critically important in preventing and managing sarcopenia. Exercise stimulates the release of hormones that promote healthy muscle mass. These include growth hormone, which acts throughout the body, as well as local growth factors, such as mechano growth factor.3,23 Exercise helps combat the loss of essential muscle and bone seen with aging,24 and may enhance the effects of other interventions, such as hormone replacement therapy.

Although any exercise is better than no exercise, not all forms of exercise are equal. Aerobic exercise is great for the cardiovascular system and for keeping body fat levels low, but is only mildly effective in preserving the lean body mass you already have. When athletes want to increase lean mass, they use resistance training as their preferred method. Thus, engaging in some form of resistance training (using weights, machines, bands, or other devices) is essential for those seeking to preserve or increase their muscle mass. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidelines for resistance exercise for older adults, noting that in addition to building muscle, strength training can promote mobility, improve health-related fitness, and improve bone health.25

Conclusion

Millions of people will become weak and frail as they age due to severe loss of muscle mass. The good news is, you do not have to be one of them.

By adopting a regimen that includes dietary modifications, hormone replacement therapy as indicated, nutritional supplements, and exercise, it is possible to dramatically improve lean muscle mass at virtually any age. Optimizing muscle mass helps improve strength, functionality, and overall health and well-being, even into advanced age. Since it is far easier to prevent or slow the progression of muscle loss than it is to treat it later in life, it makes sense to begin your sarcopenia-prevention program today.

References

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2. Leifke E, Gorenoi V, Wichers C, et al. Age-related changes of serum sex hormones, insulin-like growth factor-1 and sex-hormone binding globulin levels in men: cross-sectional data from a healthy male cohort. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 2000 Dec;53(6):689-95.

3. Goldspink G. Mechanical signals, IGF-I gene splicing, and muscle adaptation. Physiology (Bethesda.). 2005 Aug;20:232-8.

4. Karakelides H, Sreekumaran NK. Sarcopenia of aging and its metabolic impact. Curr Top Dev Biol. 2005;68:123-48.

5. Campbell WW, Crim MC, Dallal GE, Young VR, Evans WJ. Increased protein requirements in elderly people: new data and retrospective reassessments. Am J Clin Nutr. 1994 Oct;60(4):501-9.

6. Young VR. Amino acids and proteins in relation to the nutrition of elderly people. Age Ageing. 1990 Jul;19(4):S10-S24.

7. Campbell WW, Evans WJ. Protein requirements of elderly people. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1996 Feb;50 Suppl 1S180-3.

8. Frassetto L, Morris RC, Jr., Sellmeyer DE, Todd K, Sebastian A. Diet, evolution and aging—the pathophysiologic effects of the post-agricultural inversion of the potassium-to-sodium and base-to-chloride ratios in the human diet. Eur J Nutr. 2001 Oct;40(5):200-13.

9. Frassetto L, Morris RC, Jr., Sebastian A. Potassium bicarbonate reduces urinary nitrogen excretion in postmenopausal women. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1997 Jan;82(1):254-9.

10. Hameed M, Orrell RW, Cobbold M, Goldspink G, Harridge SD. Expression of IGF-I splice variants in young and old human skeletal muscle after high resistance exercise. J Physiol. 2003 Feb 15;547(Pt 1):247-54.

11. Hameed M, Lange KH, Andersen JL, et al. The effect of recombinant human growth hormone and resistance training on IGF-I mRNA expression in the muscles of elderly men. J Physiol. 2004 Feb 15;555(Pt 1):231-40.

12. Gruenewald DA, Matsumoto AM. Testosterone supplementation therapy for older men: potential benefits and risks. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2003 Jan;51(1):101-15.

13. Brose A, Parise G, Tarnopolsky MA. Creatine supplementation enhances isometric strength and body composition improvements following strength exercise training in older adults. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2003 Jan;58(1):11-9.

14. Gotshalk LA, Volek JS, Staron RS, et al. Creatine supplementation improves muscular performance in older men. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2002 Mar;34(3):537-43.

15. Chrusch MJ, Chilibeck PD, Chad KE, Davison KS, Burke DG. Creatine supplementation combined with resistance training in older men. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001 Dec;33(12):2111-7.

16. Montero-Odasso M, Duque G. Vitamin D in the aging musculoskeletal system: an authentic strength preserving hormone. Mol Aspects Med. 2005 Jun;26(3):203-19.

17. Dangin M, Boirie Y, Guillet C, Beaufrere B. Influence of the protein digestion rate on protein turnover in young and elderly subjects. J Nutr. 2002 Oct;132(10):3228S-33S.

18. Tisdale MJ. Clinical anticachexia treatments. Nutr Clin Pract. 2006 Apr;21(2):168-74.

19. Roubenoff R. Catabolism of aging: is it an inflammatory process? Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2003 May;6(3):295-9.

20. Fritsche K. Fatty acids as modulators of the immune response. Annu Rev Nutr. 2006;26:45-73.

21 Gomes MR, Tirapegui J. Relation of some nutritional supplements and physical performance. Arch Latinoam Nutr. 2000 Dec;50(4):317-29.

22. Kreider RB. Dietary supplements and the promotion of muscle growth with resistance exercise. Sports Med. 1999 Feb;27(2):97-110.

23. Mastorakos G, Pavlatou M, amanti-Kandarakis E, Chrousos GP. Exercise and the stress system. Hormones (Athens). 2005 Apr;4(2):73-89.

24. Bass SL, Eser P, Daly R. The effect of exercise and nutrition on the mechanostat. J Musculoskelet Neuronal Interact. 2005 Jul;5(3):239-54.

25. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/physical/growing_stronger/spotlight.htm. Accessed August 15, 2006.