Sarcopenia, loss of muscle strength
Build Muscle Strength From a Bottle?
How can young people prevent being in a wheelchair late in life? Visit any nursing home and you will see examples of “Sarcopenia”, a loss of muscle strength, that robs the elderly of their independence. But can you stop this creeping frailty and build up muscle strength from a bottle? Or is a steak a day, jogging or weightlifting the best way to prevent sarcopenia?
I’ve had many interesting talks with Dr. John Morley, an expert on endocrine therapy at St. Louis University. He describes how the public is often mislead by Madison Street ads for snake oil therapy. So I asked him to give me a run-down on what had merit in the prevention of sarcopenia, and what is best tossed out with the garbage.
Dr. Morley says that the male hormone, testosterone, gives a boost to muscles in boys during puberty. But then starts to decline after this time. He cites a Mayo Clinic study that gave testosterone patches to a group of men in their 60s and 70s, and a placebo to a similar age group.
Two years later the testosterone group had three more pounds of muscle. But these extra pounds had no effect on their muscle strength or endurance. At the moment there’s no evidence that this testosterone therapy is useful, and it may be associated with a risk of increasing prostate cancer.
What about the human growth hormone (HGH) which is secreted by the pituitary gland? HGH aids in growth during childhood, and it’s estimated that 30,000 people in North America are now taking HGH at a cost of $20,000 a year!
In studies done at Stanford University HGH increased muscle by about four pounds. But 20 percent of those taking it suffered from swollen painful bones and joints, 19 percent from carpal tunnel syndrome and 6 percent developed enlarged breasts, another good example that you never get something for nothing.
DHEA, made by the adrenal glands, has been touted for years for adding muscle strength in men. But again studies at Mayo Clinic showed that, after two years, muscle strength and exercise tolerance was no different than that provided by placebos.
Dr.Morley says the bottom line is that all these supplements carry a risk. People, he claims, love to take a pill rather than get involved in something that requires work.
Today there’s much talk about bone loss (osteoporosis), but the significance of muscle loss has not hit the radar screen. And unlike bone loss there is no easy way to diagnose sarcopenia. So it’s prudent not to wait until you are severely affected by sacrpoenia before starting ways to prevent it.
Dr Irwin Rosenberg, Dean of the School of Nutrition at Tufts University, Boston, reports that Sarcopenia starts around 45 years of age and increases at the rate of one percent a year. It means that by 65 years of age sedentary people have lost half of their muscle mass which means less muscle strength.
Rosenberg says that weightlifting and working on resistance machines is the answer. For instance, by using this combination, people between 60 to 72 years of age doubled muscle strength in 12 weeks of training, and some 90 year olds tossed away their canes after eight weeks of this exercise.
Dr William Evans, at The University of Arkansas, cites a study in Finland in which men in their late 60s who had lifted weights for years had a muscle mass similar to non-athletes in their 20s. And that jogging did not protect people from sarcopenia due to insufficient stress on muscles.
All this is bad news for those looking for the quick fix of a pill. But do not despair. A report from Tufts University suggests that a lack of protein may play a role in developing sarcopenia. Older women who consumed low levels of protein lost muscle mass in just eight weeks, but this did not occur in women who consumed an adequate protein diet.
Tufts researchers say we need 68 grams of protein daily. 3 ounces of chicken or fish contain 21 grams of protein. A baked potato with skin has 5 grams. A 10 ounce steak, 70 grams.
So guess what I’m eating tonight! Unfortunately my 5 ounce glass of wine only contains 0.3 grams of protein. I’d better have a second glass!
W. Gifford-Jones M.D is the pen name of Dr. Ken Walker graduate of Harvard. Dr. Walker’s website is: docgiff.com.
Dr. Walker can be reached at [firstname.lastname@example.org?bcc=letters@canadafree.