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What on Earth is sarcopenia – and should I care?

As we age, our gaits become shuffly, balance is impaired and consequently we can no longer easily perform normal daily tasks. Picture: John Moeses Bauan/Unsplash

BY ANDRE COMRIE

Well, it’s a pretty hot topic in the medical and health and wellness fields, so we should at least find out something about it.

Sarcopenia describes a condition in which there is loss of skeletal muscle mass, loss of muscle condition and, therefore, a reduction in muscle function. It’s mostly associated with ageing and anyone who has spent time with older people knows what that looks like: their gait becomes shuffly, balance is impaired and consequently they can no longer easily perform normal daily tasks. This sets up a vicious cycle – as tasks become more challenging they feel disinclined to do them and the lack of exercise speeds up the atrophy of the muscles.

But it also happens in younger people and we need to know how to prevent it, or at least delay the process.

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There is good news! Not long ago the decline was thought to be inevitable, but now we know there are things we can and must do if we want to prevent it from affecting our lives.

So what are the causes of the condition?

Reduced daily physical activity – our sedentary lifestyles are a real problem!

Slowing of nerve cell messaging from brain to muscle, so muscles fail to move.

A reduction in protein-promoting hormones such as testosterone and human growth hormone.
Too few calories for energy production.

Too little protein to ensure muscle tissue can continue to rebuild constantly.

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Muscle is actually the largest organ in your body and it’s biodynamic, meaning it is constantly being broken down and rebuilt. This process is called protein turnover and as we age it becomes less efficient.

To keep the muscle-building machinery functioning reasonably over time, the amount and quality of our daily protein intake in needs to increase. However, as we get older we tend to lose our appetites. We skimp on protein, especially in the morning. We have greater difficulty digesting our food and the gap between demand and intake grows wider all the time.

Furthermore, protein malnutrition is a major cause of declining cognitive health and even dementia in later years. So, too, with your immune capacity to protect you against viruses and other pathogens.

So a good amount of high-quality protein daily is essential for ongoing good health.

As ever, there are different proteins of different qualities. If you’d like to find out more please do get in touch with me on 084 506 3643.

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