What is sarcopenia, and why is it important?
Sarcopenia is the loss of muscle size and strength that happens as we age. It is very common – everyone gradually loses muscle as they get older. In perhaps one in ten people over the age of 75, this is severe enough to call the condition sarcopenia. Sarcopenia affects women more commonly than men, but both sexes can be affected.
We don’t understand all of the reasons why sarcopenia happens; it is likely that other illnesses play a part, but changes to hormone levels, reduced blood supply to muscles, and the presence of inflammation may all be important. Older muscles also don’t rebuild themselves as well, and don’t use amino acids (the building blocks for making new muscle) as efficiently as young muscle.
Muscle weakness is important – older people with weaker muscles are more likely to fall over, are more likely to need help with their daily activities, and take longer to recover from illness. In severe cases, people with muscle weakness will have problems walking and standing. Muscle weakness is therefore an important cause of older people needing to move into a care home.
At the moment, few treatments exist for sarcopenia – resistance (weight) training is one of the few treatments that work. Weight training isn’t suitable or convenient for everyone with sarcopenia, so it is vital that we find new treatments for the condition.
That is what the LACE trial aims to do, by testing a medicine and a supplement to see if they improve muscle strength and size in people with sarcopenia.