Sarcopenia – A New Issue in Aging

Muscle MassSarcopenia is the medical term for low muscle mass. It affects at least 50% of older adults, however most individuals are unfamiliar with the term. For years doctors themselves did not agree that there was such a problem and there was further disagreement on the definition of what constituted low muscle mass. S. Studenski, MD, Director of Longitudinal Studies Section at the National Institute on Aging says “Sarcopenia is not in anyone’s consciousness as a health problem, although we see it around us all the time. Perhaps we just take it for granted that when you get older you shrink. It doesn’t have to be a normal part of aging. Physicians are now a bit more cognizant of recognizing the condition, treating it and possibly preventing it.”

In a series of articles published in the Journal of Gerontology, May 2014, Dr. Studenski defines the criteria for Sarcopenia based on measurement of diminished hand grip strength and reduced muscle mass. The tests must be performed with specific equipment by professionals in order to meet the criteria for the diagnosis. Patients with Sarcopenia have their youthful muscles replaced by ineffective fat even though their actual body weight may not change.

The consequences of low muscle mass can include issues with mobility, frailty, osteoporosis, falls, fractures, diminished activity, and weight gain and glucose metabolism abnormalities. Dr. Studenski’s studies inclusion criteria are based on observing 26,000 subjects and measuring grip strength and muscle mass in the arms and legs. Diet appears to play a major role in maintaining adequate muscles mass with normal Vitamin D intake of 600 IU per day in ages 51 – 70 and 800 IU in patients over 71 being necessary to retain muscle mass. You need an adequate intake of protein in the 40 – 70 gram range daily. When looking at choice of foods, acid producing foods and foods low in Vitamin B12 and Folic acid can be detrimental. Alkaline foods such as fruits, vegetables, tofu, almonds, herbs and spices are felt to be beneficial. If your diet is adequate and appropriate then exercise, especially modest resistance training exercise, is very beneficial to maintain and rebuild muscle mass.

It appears that testing for hand grip strength and muscle mass will become a standard part of the geriatric evaluation in the future. The recommendations to preserve muscle mass are actually not new. Suggesting we eat a healthy diet rich in fruits, nuts and vegetables and high quality proteins while staying active is nothing new. What is new is the definition and categorization of another benchmark of healthy aging and suggestions on how to maintain it.

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