Sarcopenia: Causes, Prevention, And Treatement. Part 2

Nutrient considerations

There are several supplemental nutrients that should be especially helpful for combating sarcopenia, both directly and indirectly. Supplements that have shown promise for combating sarcopenia are creatine, vitamin D, whey protein, acetyl-L-carnitine, glutamine, and buffering agents such as potassium bicarbonate.

Creatine

The muscle atrophy found in older adults comes predominantly from a loss of fast twitch (FT) type II fibers which are recruited during high-intensity, anaerobic movements (e.g., weight lifting, sprinting, etc.). Interestingly, these are exactly the fibers creatine has the most profound effects on. Various studies find creatine given to older adults increases strength and lean body mass (Chrusch et al., 2001; Gotshalk et al., 2002; Brose et al., 2003). One group concluded:

“Creatine supplementation may be a useful therapeutic strategy for older adults to attenuate loss in muscle strength and performance of functional living tasks.”

Vitamin D

It’s well established that vitamin D plays an essential role in bone health. However, recent studies suggest it’s also essential for maintaining muscle mass in aging populations. In muscle, vitamin D is essential for preserving type II muscle fibers, which, as mentioned above, are the very muscle fibers that atrophy most in aging people. Adequate vitamin D intakes could help reduce the rates of both osteoporosis and sarcopenia found in aging people (Montero-Odasso et al., 2005) leading the author of one recent review on the topic of vitamin D’s effects on bone and muscle to conclude:

“In both cases (muscle and bone tissue) vitamin D plays an important role since the low levels of this vitamin seen in senior people may be associated to a deficit in bone formation and muscle function”

and

“We expect that these new considerations about the importance of vitamin D in the elderly will stimulate an innovative approach to the problem of falls and fractures which constitutes a significant burden to public health budgets worldwide.”

Whey protein

As previously mentioned, many older adults fail to get enough high quality protein in their diets. Whey has an exceptionally high biological value (BV), with anti-cancer and immune enhancing properties among its many uses. As a rule, higher biological value proteins are superior for maintaining muscle mass compared to lower quality proteins, which may be of particular importance to older individuals. Finally, data suggests “fast” digesting proteins such as whey may be superior to other proteins for preserving lean body mass in older individuals (Dangin et al., 2002).

Additional Nutrients of interest

There are several additional nutrients worth considering when developing a comprehensive supplement regimen designed to prevent and or treat sarcopenia. In no particular order, they are: fish oils (EPA/DHA), acetyl-l-carnitine, glutamine, and buffering agents such as potassium bicarbonate. There is good scientific reason to believe they would be beneficial for combating sarcopenia, but data specific to sarcopenia is lacking. For example, EPA/DHA has been found to preserve muscle mass (e.g. is anti-catabolic) under a wide range of physiological conditions. The anti-inflammatory effects of fish oils would also lead one to believe they should be of value in the prevention or treatment of sarcopenia. In general, fish oils have so many health benefits, it makes sense to recommend them here.

Acetyl-l-carnitine also offers many health benefits to aging people, and data suggests it should be useful in combating this condition. More research specific to sarcopenia is needed however.

Glutamine is another nutrient that should be useful in an overall plan to combat sarcopenia. Finally, data does suggest strongly that bicarbonate and citrate buffering agents containing minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium can reverse the metabolic acidosis caused by unbalanced western diets. However, I hesitate to recommend this particular strategy as it does not address the root cause, which is the diet itself. Much greater health benefits will result from improving the diet over simply adding in this supplement. In addition, there are potential problems that could result from excessive intake of buffer salts, such as hyperkalemia and formation of kidney stones.

Exercise Considerations

Exercise is the lynchpin to the previous sections. Without it, none of the above will be an effective method of preventing/treating sarcopenia. Exercise is the essential stimulus for systemwide release of various hormones such as GH, as well as local growth factors in tissue, such as MGF. Exercise is the stimulus that increases protein and bone synthesis, and exerts other effects that combat the loss of essential muscle and bone as we age. Exercise optimizes the effects of HRT, diet and supplements, so if you think you can sit on the couch and follow the above recommendations…think again.

Although any exercise is generally better then no exercise, all forms of exercise are not created equal. You will note, for example, many of the studies listed at the end of this article have titles like: “GH and resistance exercise” or “creatine effects combined with resistance exercise” and so on. Aerobic exercise is great for the cardiovascular system and helps keep body fat low, but when scientists or athletes want to increase lean mass, resistance training is always the method. Aerobics does not build muscle and is only mildly effective at preserving the lean body mass you already have. Thus, some form of resistance training (via weights, machines, bands, etc.) is essential for preserving or increasing muscle mass. The CDC report on resistance exercise for older adults summarizes it as:

“In addition to building muscles, strength training can promote mobility, improve health-related fitness, and strengthen bones.”

Combined with HRT (if indicated), dietary modifications, and the supplements listed above, dramatic improvements in lean body mass can be achieved at virtually any age, with improvements in strength, functionality into advanced age, and improvements in overall health and general well being.

Conclusion

Hopefully, the reader will appreciate that I have attempted to cover a huge amount of territory with this topic. Each sub-section (nutrition, hormones, etc.) could easily be its own article if not its own book. This means each section is a general overview vs. anything close to an exhaustive discussion. Below is guide to web sites that offer additional information regarding the topics covered in this article and should (hopefully!) help fill in any gaps. To summarize, to prevent or treat sarcopenia:

* Get adequate high quality proteins from a variety of sources as well as adequate calories. Avoid excessive animal protein and cereal grain intakes while increasing the intake of fruits and vegetables.

* Get regular blood work on all major hormones after the age of 40 and discuss with a medical professional if HRT is indicated.

* Add supplements such as: creatine, vitamin D, whey protein, acetyl-l-carnitine, glutamine, and buffering agents such as potassium bicarbonate.

* Exercise regularly, with an emphasis on resistance training, a minimum of 3 times per week.

I’m going to conclude this article the way most people would start it, with the good news and the bad news. The bad news is, millions of people will suffer from a mostly avoidable loss of functionality and will become weak and frail as they age from a severe loss of muscle mass. The good news is that you don’t have to be one of those people. One thing is very clear: it’s far easier, cheaper, and more effective to prevent sarcopenia – or at least greatly slow its progression – than it is to treat it later in life. Studies have found, however, that it’s never too late to start – so don’t be discouraged if you are starting your sarcopenia fighting program later in life.

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