Sarcopenia: Treatment with Supplements
Last month, I talked about the importance of avoiding sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass). Sarcopenia, frequently seen in elderly adults and in those eating low calorie diets, can lead to fragility, unsteadiness and an accumulation of body fat. But with a healthy diet and a consistent exercise program, combined with the use of supplements, you can avoid sarcopenia as you age.
One way to augment muscle mass is with the use of hormones like growth hormone, testosterone and estrogen. Although hormonal therapies can significantly increase lean muscle mass, they are expensive and frequently associated with serious side effects. This is especially true of growth hormone. Also, results tend to vary among individuals, so administering these hormones can be a complex and uncertain process.
Similarly, dihydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), an adrenal androgen, the biological precursor of active androgenic hormones such as testosterone and dihydrotestosterone, has been used to augment lean muscle mass in the elderly. However, the use of DHEA supplementation for this pupose requires more research before the therapeutic benefits can be definitively ascertained.
There is hope, however. Amino acids, the molecular “building blocks” that make up proteins, are involved in many complex functions within in the body. The branched chain amino acids (BCAA), which include leucine, isoleucine and valine, play a significant role in protein synthesis and muscle building. Over the years, scientists have been particularly impressed with the ability of leucine to augment muscle mass. The branched-chain amino acids are not synthesized by the human body, and must be acquired through diet, which places them in the category of essential amino acids. Supplementation with BCAA causes the anabolism (build up) of proteins, and also prevents their catabolism (breakdown).
In 1982, researchers investigated leucine to determine whether its metabolism is necessary for the stimulation of protein synthesis. They found that blocking the metabolism of leucine did not affect the stimulation of protein synthesis, however, proteolysis (the enzymatic degradation of proteins) was prevented. It was subsequently found that a chemical byproduct of leucine metabolism, known as hydroxymethylbutyrate (HMB), inhibits proteolysis and the loss of muscle mass.
Supplemental HMB plays an important role in the avoidance and prevention of sarcopenia and is considered very safe. However, it is important to note that the beneficial effects of HMB supplementation on body composition will not occur to any great extent without exercise. When sedentary subjects were given HMB, they saw no changes in muscle strength or body composition. But when resistance training was initiated 3 times a week for 4 weeks, the same subjects saw noteworthy increases in lean body mass and upper body strength.
Sarcopenia is prevalent worldwide. The loss of muscle mass begins around age 30 and accelerates around the age of 60. By age 70, many people become fragile, are much more likely to suffer falls or lose the ability to care for themselves or their homes the way they did when they were younger. But you can take precautions to prevent or overcome sarcopenia. Maintaining a healthy weight is of utmost importance. Take advantage of the supplements emerging from the research as useful tools to help you prevent muscle loss as you age, and when you are trying to lose weight. More details on this subject can be found in the my book, “The Natural Fat Loss Pharmacy.”
The Anti-Aging Bottom Line: You can fight sarcopenia as you age or when you lose weight by eating a healthy diet with plenty protein and maintaining an exercise program that includes resistance training. Supplements like HMB, chromium and CLA can also help. If you think improvements can be made, now is the time to take action with nutrition, exercise and supplements.
QUICK TIP: Read our new comprehensive special report titled Natural Weight Loss That Works for research on supplements that help you build muscle mass while losing weight.
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Article updated on: January 9th, 2008