& Joannie Dobbs Thursday,
September 28, 2006
Muscle is also important as a major protein reserve
Aging gracefully is like a balancing act. It takes just one small change in the body’s intricate control mechanisms to throw many other things out of balance.
As staying healthy and “in balance” gets more challenging with each passing year, many find themselves searching for the latest scientific discovery to reclaim the vigor of youth. This search often leads to seductive promises in the forms of diets, drugs and dietary supplements.
Failing health, however, may be related to something as basic as a decline in a person’s total muscle mass.
Question: How can the amount of muscle play such a big role in staying healthy and active with aging?
Answer: Muscle is much more important than just the amount of weight a person can lift. Everyone knows that the liver, heart, and pancreas are important organs for body function. Muscle too can be thought of as an organ that does many things for the rest of the body.
In addition to its role in moving the body, muscle is the body’s major protein reserve. All body parts require a steady supply of the protein building blocks called amino acids. If this supply is running low, muscle will break down to provide amino acids to other parts of the body.
If muscle mass is too low, the body’s functioning is compromised. Low muscle mass can impair basic functions such as immune function, healing, blood pressure regulation, heart function, etc.
Q: What helps an older person maintain adequate muscle?
A: Both regular exercise and adequate nutrition play essential roles in maintaining muscle. Exercise stimulates more demand for muscles to accumulate protein to build muscle fibers. But, this is only possible when an adequate amount of key nutrients is present along with enough protein.
Q: Do protein needs drop with aging?
A: There is considerable debate about how much protein a person needs as they age. Some studies using more traditional research techniques indicate that a person’s protein needs stay the same or decline with age. Newer studies, however, indicate that more protein is required to maintain body protein during the later years of life.
One study reported that older people consuming dietary protein greater than presently recommended in their diet had fewer health problems over a 10 years period than those consuming less. Other studies show that adequate amounts of high quality protein are necessary to maintain muscle size and a healthy bone density
Alan Titchenal, Ph.D., C.N.S. and Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S.
are nutritionists in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences,
College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, UH-Manoa.
Dr. Dobbs also works with the University Health Service
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