Sarcopenia has become exceedingly common among older people. Almost 10% of adults above 50 are affected by it. Sarcopenia is characterized by muscle loss, that can decrease both the quality of life, as well as life expectancy. However, the good news is that sarcopenia can be prevented and reversed in certain cases. Indeed, sarcopenia is often related to aging of an individual, and therefore is a natural consequence of growing older; some of the causes that lead to sarcopenia can be prevented. A healthy diet and regular exercise regime are germane in reversing sarcopenia, thereby increasing both the lifespan and the quality of life.
Sarcopenia literally means “lack of flesh.” To understand how this occurs we need to delve deep into the life cycle of a cell. Like everything in Nature, growth and decay are inherent to the cells as well. The process by which cell grows is called “anabolism” and the process of teardown of cell is called “catabolism”. Sarcopenia happens when this natural cycle is tilted in favour of catabolism. We have growth hormones in our bodies. These hormones help counteract the effects of injury or stress, and keep muscle steady by healing them. This goes on inside our bodies throughout our lives. However, as we grow older, our bodies become resistant to normal growth signals. This further results in tipping the balance towards catabolism and muscle loss. The degeneration of muscle becomes more common among people above fifty. After middle-age, a person, on an average, loses 3% of their muscle strength in a year. And therefore, as he becomes older, the ability of performing many daily routines decreases, along with decreasing muscle strength.
Causes: Sarcopenia is mostly caused by a decrease in physical activity. However, although less frequent, some people with a very active physical life may also develop sarcopenia, which points to other probable reasons for this disease.
In addition to decreased physical activity the following might cause sarcopenia:
- Decline in nerve cells that send signals from the brain to the muscle to move.
- Reduction in the hormone levels
- A lowered capacity of our body to convert protein to energy
- Lack in protein and daily calorie consumption that help maintain muscle mass
Symptoms of sarcopenia is not uniform among the people it affects. It depends entirely on how much muscle mass a person has lost. Some of the common symptoms include:
- a decline in muscle mass
- loss of endurance
- decrease in balance
- trouble climbing stairs
The most debilitating part of developing sarcopenia is the spiral decline it causes. As one develops sarcopenia, his physical movement decreases, which in turn further exacerbates sarcopenia. This cycle continues resulting in weakness, increase the risk of falling, and most importantly limits one’s physical independence. Sarcopenia can adversely affect one’s life quality and therefore, a decline in muscle mass is something we should be extremely mindful about.
Dietary management for sarcopenia
Diet plays an important role in the management of sarcopenia. If someone takes a calorie deficient diet, or has insufficient quantity of protein and certain other vitamins or minerals, she stands at a higher risk of muscle loss. For those who aren’t nutrient deficient, focus on taking higher proportion of certain types of foods that promote muscle growth can be beneficial.
- Protein: An increased proportion of protein in the diet directly signals muscles to enhance building and strengthening itself. With age this signal weakens and much higher quantity of protein is needed for muscle growth. The amino acid leucine is enormously helpful in regulating muscle growth. Whey protein, eggs, fish, meat, and soy proteins are good sources of leucine.
- Vitamin D: Deficiency in Vitamin D is extremely widespread among older people, and this lack supersedes racial and geographical boundaries. As a person gets older the levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)] is decreased, which further results in the lowering of muscle strength. Vitamin D levels, therefore, should be regularly monitored and necessary supplementation must be given.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids : Irrespective of one’s age, studies have found that consumption of omega-3 fatty acid rich foods, through seafood and supplements are enormously beneficial in facilitating muscle growth. The anti-inflammatory nature of omega-3 fatty acid foods might be contributive as well.
- Creatine: Creatine is a protein found in the liver that help in muscle growth. Our bodies make enough creatine; however, studies have found that having creatine through meat or as supplement help in muscle growth. However, creatine should be used in tandem with exercise to make it more beneficial to us.
Exercise regime for preventing and reversing sarcopenia
Regular exercise might be the single most beneficial way to fight sarcopenia. The more active our muscles are, the lesser are the chances of succumbing to sarcopenia. For optimal results and even for reversing sarcopenia a combination regime of aerobic exercise, resistance training and balance training is needed.
Resistance training: Resistance training includes weightlifting, pulling against resistance bands and other exercise where our bodies muscles need to counteract gravity. The tension produced in muscles fibers during resistance training results in generating growth signal that in turn helps in increasing muscle strength. Resistance exercise also help in producing growth-promoting hormones.
Fitness Training: Exercise that helps to increase heart-rate, when combined with resistance and flexibility training can control and reverse sarcopenia. A fitness regime would include these combinations to deliver the most productive outcome against sarcopenia.
Walking: Walking is an exercise that many of us ordinarily do. A more regular walking schedule can be extremely helpful, in addition to other exercise in controlling and reversing sarcopenia.
When we think about muscle loss, especially among older people, we do not take the problem seriously. But very few things can be as detrimental to the quality of life as losing physical independence and sarcopenia does exactly that. Food N Wellness understands how debilitating sarcopenia can be, and hence have carefully designed a geriatric program that aims at preventing and reversing sarcopenia through dedicatedly curated diet and exercise regime.