Aging and Muscle Loss

September 28th, 2010 | Sources: NY Times


We know that people tend to lose muscle mass as they age. We know that sedentary lifestyles, hormonal changes, oxidative damage and infiltration of fat into muscles are common causes of the phenomenon.

But few of us know that age-related loss of muscle can be a profound cause of disability. The condition affects nearly 10% of people over the age of 60, and it has been estimated to account for at least $18.5 billion per year in direct medical costs.

A growing understanding of the economic costs of age-related muscle wasting has sparked renewed interest in the matter by scientists, pharmaceutical and food companies, and of course, by all those aging baby boomers.

Drug companies are searching for compounds other than the notoriously dangerous anabolic steroids that can build muscle or delay age-related muscle loss. Food conglomerates like Danone and Nestlé are looking for nutritional products that have the same effect.

For commercial enterprises like these to succeed, of course, the condition needs to be clearly defined. Call it creating a disease if you wish, but “if you are trying to sell drugs, you want to have a very clear criterion for diagnosing the problem and for endpoints to treat it,” UCSF’s Thomas Lang explained to the New York Times.

Lang and other scientists have settled on the term “sarcopenia” to describe the condition. Some prefer to think of the matter simply: sarcopenia is to muscle what osteoporosis is to bone. However, some studies have shown that strength, as manifested by gripping force, or muscular function, as measured by, say, walking speed, are better predictors of future problems for the elderly.

Meanwhile, experts agree that for now, exercise, especially resistance (weight) training is the best way to restore or maintain muscle mass. Adequate nutrition, particularly Vitamin D and perhaps protein intake, may also help. See you at the gym!


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