What is Sarcopenia?
As we get older our bodies naturally change in many ways, including muscle strength. But sometimes this goes beyond normal age-related processes and can become a health concern, including Sarcopenia. How can we prevent it from affecting our quality of life?
Sarcopenia is a disorder characterized by a loss of muscle mass and muscle strength. It's associated with the natural ageing process as well as geriatric medical conditions and bed-rest. Sarcopenia is a progressive disease that mainly affects individuals over the age of 50 – affecting balance, strength and the overall ability to complete everyday activities. While Sarcopenia can decrease life expectancy, it primarily affects a person’s overall quality of life, leading to:
- Falls and fractures
- Weight loss and/or malnutrition
- Physical disability
- Poor quality of life, Institutionalization
- Increased healthcare costs
What causes Sarcopenia?
According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF), muscle loss starts around the age of 40 and progresses with age. While statistics vary, experts believe that on average, a person loses between 3-8% of muscle mass per decade, and that this process peaks between 65-80 years of age. Currently, it is believed that up to 10% of adults over the age of 50 are affected by Sarcopenia.
While the natural process of ageing is the leading cause of Sarcopenia, there are several other associated factors, including:
- Lack of exercise and immobility
- Age-related chronic disorders
- Acute events i.e. hospital admission or bed-rest
- Poor diet or malnutrition, including an insufficient calorie or protein intake
- Inflammatory diseases i.e. rheumatoid arthritis or inflammatory bowel diseases
- Severe stress
What are the symptoms of Sarcopenia?
People with Sarcopenia experience a decline in muscle mass as well as muscle strength. Symptoms may include:
- Reduced muscle size
- A general feeling of weakness or exhaustion
- Experiencing difficulty in lifting objects
- Loss of endurance and ability to complete daily activities
- Poor balance or frequent falls
- Weight loss
It is important that people experiencing symptoms of Sarcopenia and or malnutrition seek immediate treatment, as if left untreated, Sarcopenia can cause inactivity and immobility, further accelerating the process of muscle ageing.
Can Sarcopenia be prevented or reversed?
When it comes to nutrition, 30% of older adults with Sarcopenia are undernourished, while 80% of elderly suffering from undernutrition have Sarcopenia. It is possible to break this vicious cycle that leads to progressive decline.
The good news is that Sarcopenia in malnourished patients or those at risk of malnutrition can be reversed – and even prevented - with the right combination of lifestyle, diet and exercise, including:
- Resistance training, including weightlifting and muscle-building exercises
- Daily exercise, including walking and aerobic or endurance training
- Increased protein intake or provide oral nutritional supplements, as needed, to achieve total daily intake. Evidence-based recommendations for optimal dietary protein intake in older people (PROT-AGE Group), recommends in the range of 1 -1.2 g/kg body weight/d in healthy older people and 1.2 g/kg body weight/d and 1.2-1.5 g/kg body weight/d in older adults who have acute or chronic diseases
- Vitamin D and Calcium
- Omega 3 and fatty acids
- Essential amino acids and/ or mixture of branched-chain amino acids
If you’re interested in learning more about Sarcopenia in malnutrition patients or at risk of malnutrition, you can find more here: