It’s an unfortunate reality that we lose muscle mass with age. This process of gradual muscle and strength loss begins at around the age of 30 and accelerates during late middle-age. The decline in muscle mass and strength that occurs with aging leads to a condition called sarcopenia. Sarcopenia causes older people to become frail as they age and increases their risk of falling. Up until now, researchers haven’t really understood why this decline in muscle mass happens. Now, a study shines new light on this issue.
What Causes Muscle Loss with Age?
Scientists at Columbia University Medical Center discovered that as muscles age, calcium channels inside the muscle cells begin to leak calcium. This leakage of calcium leads to a series of changes that makes it more difficult for the muscles to contract. Leakage from the same calcium channels is also seen in muscular dystrophy, a disease that causes profound muscle weakness.
What causes muscle calcium channels to leak in the first place? It’s free radicals at work. As more free radicals are produced with age, they damage muscle calcium channels and cause them to leak. This leakage not only damages the muscle, but it also poisons the mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell that produces ATP for cellular energy. This causes even more calcium leakage, setting up a vicious cycle that makes it more difficult for muscles to contract.
There is some good news. Researchers have also developed a drug that stops this process in mice. When older mice took this experimental drug, their strength improved by 50%. Still, this drug to fix damaged calcium channels is still a long way from reaching the market.
Another Way to Prevent Sarcopenia
Fortunately, there’s another way to help maintain muscle mass as you age. Hit the weight room. Research shows that even elderly people can boost their strength and muscle function through resistance training. At the current time, it’s the most effective way to slow down the loss of muscle tissue.
Since free radicals play a role in the loss of muscle strength by damaging calcium channels, eating an antioxidant-rich diet could also keep muscles healthier. When you eat lean protein after working out at the gym, add some brightly-colored fruits and vegetables to your meal to get more antioxidants.
Could there be a cure for loss of muscle mass with aging on the horizon? It sounds promising. Until then build lean body mass by strength training, and eating a diet rich in antioxidants. It’s good for your muscles and your overall health.
Science Daily. “Study Explains Why Muscles Weaken with Age and Points to Possible Therapy”
J. Appl. Phys. 95(4): 1717-27.