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How we age: sarcopenia

The aging process begins in the body after 25-30 years, when there are still no signs. But aging is not only wrinkles on the face and gray hair, and not even age-related ailments. One indicator of aging is a decrease in muscle mass.

What is sarcopenia
The fact that with age a person loses muscle mass, Hippocrates noted. But until recently, this fact was somehow not taken into account. And only in 1989, scientists introduced the concept of “sarcopenia”, which in Greek literally means “reduction of the body” (sarx – body, penia – decrease). Since then, the term has been used to refer to atrophic muscle changes that occur with age. Muscle mass can also decrease due to other reasons: cancer, severe renal failure, AIDS, etc. But sarcopenia is precisely age-related changes.

Scientists have found that we have the maximum muscle mass at 25 years old, then it begins to gradually decrease, and after 40 years its loss is already about 1% annually. As a result, by the age of 50 we lose 10% of the muscles, and by 80 – a third.

What are the causes of sarcopenia
The body is constantly exchanging proteins. We get proteins with food, then they break down into amino acids, and new proteins are synthesized from amino acids, which are used to build muscle. But with age, these processes begin to slow down. This is due to the fact that over the years, the production of a number of hormones decreases: testosterone, estrogen, growth hormone, which affect protein metabolism.

Another cause of sarcopenia is age-related neurodegenerative processes (death of nerve cells) affecting the muscles.

Often, the situation is exacerbated by related factors: malnutrition (decreased protein intake), lack of movement, deficiency of vitamins, in particular vitamin D. In this case, they speak of secondary sarcopenia. But most often in older people, muscle loss is caused by several reasons.
What are the signs of sarcopenia?
Degenerative processes in muscle tissue occur gradually, invisibly neither to others, nor to the person himself. Muscle is not only reduced in mass. The very quality of the muscles becomes different, they lose strength, weaken and in some cases can no longer perform their functions.

Doctors distinguish three stages of sarcopenia:

the first, easy, is simply a decrease in muscle mass;
the second, moderate, is a decrease in weight plus a decrease in muscle strength or function;
the third, heavy, is a simultaneous decrease in mass, strength, and function.
Sarcopenia leads to increased fatigue, weakness, and brittle bones (osteoporosis). This means that the risk of injuries and fractures is growing. In severe cases of sarcopenia, a person loses the ability to move, cannot serve himself, and becomes completely helpless.

How sarcopenia is determined
The diagnosis of sarcopenia is based on:

muscle mass estimation;
determination of muscle strength;
determination of muscle functionality.
Muscle mass can be determined using various studies: this is an ultrasound scan, magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography, bioimpedance analysis (based on the electrical resistance of different tissues) and the easiest way is to measure the circumference of the shoulder.

Various tests are used to assess muscle strength: compressing the dynamometer by hand, peak tidal volume (shows the strength of the intercostal muscles), and lifting from a squat position.

The functionality of the muscles is evaluated by tests, including the calculation of the speed of walking, climbing stairs.
Is it possible to delay old age
In the prevention and development of sarcopenia use:

physiotherapy exercises;
nutrition correction;
Exercise is a very effective way to combat sarcopenia. The course of physiotherapy exercises includes aerobic exercises and strength loads. The former improve the condition of the respiratory system, heart and blood vessels, the latter are effective for the musculoskeletal system.

Nutrition correction. Protein products must be present in the diet of older people, since protein deficiency increases the risk of sarcopenia. In this case, the protein must be high-quality, containing all the essential amino acids. These are meat, dairy products, eggs, seafood and soy.

Due to the fact that studies of sarcopenia have recently begun, drugs to combat this condition have not yet been developed (moreover, sarcopenia has not even been included in the latest international classification of diseases in 2010). The effectiveness of using vitamin D, hormonal and some other drugs to slow muscle loss is being studied.

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