What is Sarcopenia?
From the time you are born to around the time you turn 30, your muscles grow larger and stronger. But at some point in your 30s, you start to lose muscle mass and function. The cause is age-related sarcopenia or sarcopenia with aging.
Physically inactive people can lose as much as 3% to 5% of their muscle mass each decade after age 30. Even if you are active, you’ll still have some muscle loss.
There’s no test or specific level of muscle mass that will diagnose sarcopenia. Any loss of muscle matters because it lessens strength and mobility.
Sarcopenia typically happens faster around age 75. But it may also speed up as early as 65 or as late as 80. It’s a factor in frailty and the likelihood of falls and fractures in older adults.
Symptoms and Causes of Sarcopenia
Symptoms can include weakness and loss of stamina, which can interfere with physical activity. Reduced activity further shrinks muscle mass.
Although sarcopenia is seen mostly in people who are inactive, the fact that it also occurs in people who stay physically active suggests there are other factors in its development. Researchers believe these include:
- Reduction in nerve cells responsible for sending signals from the brain to the muscles to start movement
- Lower concentrations of some hormones, including growth hormone, testosterone, and insulin-like growth factor
- A decrease in the ability to turn protein into energy
- Not getting enough calories or protein each day to sustain muscle mass
Protein and Sarcopenia
Protein is considered a key nutrient in older age . Dietary protein provides amino acids that are needed for the synthesis of muscle protein, and importantly, absorbed amino acids have a stimulatory effect on muscle protein synthesis after feeding . There is some evidence that the synthetic response to amino acid intake may be blunted in older people, particularly at low intakes , and when protein is consumed together with carbohydrate . Recommended protein intakes may, therefore, need to be raised in older people in order to maintain nitrogen balance and to protect them from sarcopenic muscle loss .
Whilst there is currently no consensus on the degree to which dietary protein requirements change in older age, there is important observational evidence that an insufficient protein intake may be an important contributor to impaired physical function. For example, in the US Health, Aging and Body Composition Study, a greater loss of lean mass over 3 years, assessed using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, was found among older community-dwelling men and women who had low energy-adjusted protein intakes at baseline . The differences were substantial, such that the participants with protein intakes in the top fifth of the distribution lost 40% less lean mass over the follow-up period when compared with those in bottom fifth. Protein and/or amino acid supplementation should, therefore, have the potential to slow sarcopenic muscle loss.
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