The human body performs the activity of muscle growth from the time of birth till adulthood. With time, the skeletal muscle mass of the body increases in size, quality, and strength as we grow.
However, with advancing age, this activity gets reversed, and the body gradually loses skeletal muscle mass. This age-related loss of muscle mass and muscle function is termed sarcopenia with aging. It is an invisible health condition that is noticed by loss of handgrip strength by simple activities like opening a jar at home, squeezing an orange or even observing the firmness of handshake.
Muscle loss is the aging factor that's rarely discussed, and people accept its signs, such as a weaker handgrip, as a natural part of aging. But muscle health can often tell us how we are going to age and stay active and independent.
Sarcopenia is observed more in people who are aged above the 30s and are less physically active. They tend to lose 2-5% of muscle mass every 10-12 years with age. No specific data is suggesting the exact value of actual muscle mass lost. Such scenarios make the old age population more prone to fractures and injuries. This affects their life expectancy and quality of life.
• Weakness and fatigue
• Prone to fractures and injury
• Loss of appetite and weight loss
• Lowered stamina
• Reduced physical activity and strength
• Inability to perform daily routine activities
• Shrinking of muscles
• Frequently getting exhausted in short walks
There is no known reason for this phenomenon; however, researchers believe that there is a reduction in the number of nerve cells as age advances. This lowered neural function leads to decreased signal transfer from the brain cells to the muscle cells to perform the growth and catabolic activity. Also, theories suggest that altering human hormones with age, such as growth hormones, testosterone, insulin-like growth factor etc., can also lead to reduced muscle mass.
Mitochondria dysfunction and age-associated inflammation in muscle are two of the main contributors to sarcopenia progression.
Difficulty in maintaining a protein and vitamin-rich diet and decreased ability to convert the proteins and amino acids into energy is also a common cause leading to the loss of muscle mass in the body.
Prolonged standing inflammation like Ulcerative colitis, severe burns, Crohn’s disease, Tuberculosis, etc., interrupts the regular muscle cell activity of anabolism and catabolism, causing muscle loss. A sedentary lifestyle and psychological stress are also common causes.
What are the risk factors of sarcopenia?
Common risk factors for sarcopenia are aging, cigarette smoking, poor nutritional status, and low BMI (body mass index).
A sedentary lifestyle, lack of physical activity regularly and dietary habits can increase the risk of developing sarcopenia as they age.
The best way to prevent sarcopenia is to keep yourself active and healthy with the proper nutrition and combination exercises.
Sarcopenia in relation with other chronic diseases
Sarcopenia can be related to the aging process along with comorbidities, malnutrition, or immobility.
Comorbidities that can induce sarcopenia are organ failures like heart, kidneys, lungs, brain and liver and cancer. Data from past studies show that factors such as sarcopenia may be identified as a particular risk factor for future cardiovascular events.
Some inflammatory diseases like chronic low-grade inflammation and endocrine disorders like a decline of testosterone in hypogonadal men can result in sarcopenia due to anabolic resistance and impaired regeneration.
People with diabetes are at increased risk for impaired mobility due to reducing muscle mass and decreased muscle strength.
Vitamins are the essential components of the human diet and play a significant role in preventing muscle loss.
Vitamin D is a powerful element that affects the major systems of the body. All the cells in the human body have receptors for Vitamin D. It plays an essential role like a hormone. Vitamin D gets activated when exposed to the sunlight in the skin; however, it can be taken externally by diet and vitamin supplements.
Regular intake of Vitamin D plays a significant part in neuromuscular functions. It reduces muscle loss and improves muscle strength by increasing the rate of protein synthesis by enlarging the muscle cell fibers. It reduces the risk of falls and fractures and optimizes bone density. Vitamin D can be taken externally by food like fish, Salmon, Tuna or as supplementation. 400-800IU is the recommended daily dose for Vitamin D.
Omega 3 fatty acids
Consumption of seafood replenishes the human body with Omega 3 fatty acids. This helps in improving muscle mass and muscle weakness. It also helps in reducing long-standing inflammation.
Protein intake is the best way to prevent muscle loss. Theories have suggested that increased protein intake has improved the sarcopenia condition in a section of the population. 30-35 grams of daily protein intake is recommended. The primary amino acid is Leucine that helps in muscle growth and its normal functioning. Protein-rich diets mainly consist of soybeans, meat, fish, eggs etc.
Creatine is a protein produced in the liver by the human body. This also helps in regaining the lost muscle strength. Creatine can also be consumed externally by a diet such as meat.
Recommended daily dose is 5gm.
Along with the above-mentioned dietary supplements, it is crucial to perform some physical activity and fitness training.
1. Resistance training
This involves weightlifting, weight pulling, etc., which is beneficial to prevent muscle loss. This movement is performed against gravity.
This training creates tension in the muscle cells that activates the growth signals within the cells and increases the actions of growth-promoting hormones, thus increasing the muscle strength.
2. Fitness training
Training such as aerobics, combined with other regular exercises, is also effective in sarcopenia. Regular jogging and cycling in combination with resistance training have been shown to prevent and reverse muscle loss. Thus, increases the muscle mass helping in regaining skeletal strength.
Walking is the most straightforward exercise which most people can easily practice. A study in Japan had resulted in positive impacts of 6 months walking in people aged over 65yrs.
Lack of activity is the most common reason behind this condition. Therefore, being physically active may lessen your chances of getting sarcopenia. Just half an hour of moderate exercise each day, like walking or jogging, will help keep your system working and fit.
For exercise to be effective, proper nutrition is also essential. Consuming more protein may help older adults reduce their chance of sarcopenia. Supplements have also proven to be effective in the prevention of sarcopenia. Some include:
• creatine, for increasing and maintaining muscle mass
• vitamin D, for preserving bone and muscle tissues
• whey protein, to help preserve body mass