Adults over the age of 60 more often have loss of muscle mass (sarcopenia) than loss of bone mass (osteoporosis). The estimated direct healthcare cost attribute to sarcopenia in the United States in 2000 was $18.5 billion, which represented about 1.5% of total healthcare expenditures for that year.
Sarcopenia, derived from the Greek meaning “poverty of flesh”, is the loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength related to aging. Thanks to the media, many are familiar with osteoporosis (the thinning of bone tissue and skeletal bone mass). Fewer are aware of sarcopenia, despite its impact on more adults.
As adults age, they tend to eat less during the day due to the decline in physical activity.
The main components of food are fat, carbohydrates, and proteins. Reducing the intake of carbs and fat is not a problem for older adults, whereas reducing the intake of protein is. Older adults also tend to reduce the intake of protein more so during breakfast and lunch, and consume the most protein at dinner. Since muscle is mostly made up of protein, reducing protein intake directly relates to the loss of muscle mass. Reduced muscle mass in older adults will ultimately reduce the strength and function and will limit their daily activities.
Presently, sarcopenia cannot be treated with any form of medication, unlike osteoporosis. The main treatment options are:
- Exercise programs with weight bearing exercises.
- Increasing protein intake.
Muscle needs protein to maintain and increase in size with additional stimulation by weight bearing exercise.
However, it matters which type of protein we eat; as we age we need higher quality and more protein to achieve a benefit.
Protein comprises a combination of amino acids. There are 20 primary amino acids in protein; eight of which are called “essential amino acids” (EAA) because the body cannot produce enough of them to supply all of its needs. We observed that only essential amino acids are needed to stimulate the production of new muscle protein. The highest quality proteins with the highest percentage of essential amino acids and as such, are the most effective proteins to build new muscle.