April 14, 2015
Have you ever wondered why older family relatives seem to get weaker and more fragile as they get older? I have.
It may appear they're still in good health and have no illnesses. So what really is going on in their bodies? What I now know is that it could be a condition known as Sarcopenia.
Sarcopenia is the loss of muscle mass, strength, and function which are all related to the aging process. We lose ½ to 1 percent of our lean muscle mass each year, starting as early as our thirties (eek!) and accelerating after age 75. Muscle strength also declines by 12 to 15 percent per decade. It's usually seen in inactive people but can affect those who remain physically active. Like osteoporosis, sarcopenia is a multifactorial disease process that can result from low hormone levels, inadequate protein, nutritional imbalances, lack of exercise, stress, and inflammation.
Dietary deficiencies can have something to do with Sarcopenia. Inadequate protein intake, insufficient calorie intake, and chronic abnormally increased acidity in the body’s fluids are three reasons. Many older adults don't eat enough protein. Plus, the older adult system has trouble digesting and absorbing protein which adds to the problem of inadequate protein intake.
With aging we have declining levels of many essential hormones, particularly tissue-building anabolic hormones such as growth hormone, DHEA, and testosterone. Testosterone is essential to maintaining lean body mass. Low testosterone levels affects functional performance, sexual function, and our mood. Testosterone is essential to both men and women's health and well-being.
Exercise of Course!
The above heading is one of the answers to the question: How can we prevent Sarcopenia? Resistance training or strength training will work. Resistance training effects the neuromuscular system, protein synthesis, and hormones, which, when not operating normally, work together to cause sarcopenia.
Adding more protein to the diet with every meal is another way. One amino acid, called leucine, is really good at turning on the body’s muscle building machinery. Once that muscle building switch is flipped we're better able to take in the amino acid. Dairy products such as milk and Greek yogurt are excellent sources of leucine. Lean meat, fish and soy, such as edamame and tofu are also rich in this amino acid.
Diets rich in acid producing foods (meat and cereal grains) and low in non-acid producing foods (fruits and vegetables) are important in balancing out the nutritional benefits for combating Sarcopenia.
Omega-3s improve the way your muscles use protein, as well. Foods like salmon, walnuts, flaxseed and omega-3-enriched eggs are nutritional powerhouses.
But not every person needs to worry about sarcopenia. Many obese folks have muscle in addition to excess body fat, which may protect them. Still, obesity carries its own health risks. It's better to be leaner and build up muscle through exercise. A balanced exercise program at any age or fitness level is the best place to start to help protect against sarcopenia as well as osteoporosis. You will also reap many more health benefits, too!