WHAT IS IT AND WHAT KINDS OF STRATEGIES CAN BE USED TO REVERSE IT?
Although my kids think I’ve already hit geezerhood, as I get older, I become increasingly interested in what I can do to slow down — or even reverse — the aging process. And it’s not like I haven’t dealt with this issue on my site in the past.
- I’ve shown you that hip arthritis is a massive cause of morbidity and mortality (HERE).
- I’ve talked about the POSTURE OF AGE, while showing you HOW TO START REVERSING IT.
- I’ve shown you what it takes to be healthy and strong at 50 and beyond (HERE & HERE)
- I’ve shown you that A.G.E.S. caused by LIVING THE HIGH CARB LIFESTYLE cause rapid aging, but how good nutrition creates built-in VITAL RESERVES.
- I’ve shown you the dichotomy between calorie restriction and a long, health life (HERE and HERE) as well as the benefits of EATING MORE & EXERCISING LESS.
- I’ve shown you that libido is an indicator of health and not age (HERE).
- I’ve shown you the relationship between aging, inflammation, loss of flexibility, and degenerative arthritis (HERE).
- I’ve talked about the AGING GUT.
- I’ve talked about both female and male sex hormones in aging men and women; ANDROPAUSE & MENOPAUSE.
- I’ve shown you that it’s possible to increase your body’s natural production of HUMAN GROWTH HORMONE — also known as the Fountain of Youth.
One of the facts I remember from my days in Kansas State’s dual degree, nutrition / exercise physiology program is that after the age of thirty; unless you are actively working to overcome natural aging processes, people lose 10% of their muscle mass per decade for the rest of their lives. Knowing what we know about the benefits of lean body mass as opposed to adipose tissue (fatty tissue), we can’t be surprised. For one, we know that body fat (especially BELLY FAT) becomes its own hormone-producing endocrine system (HERE) which, among other things, actually fuels cancer (HERE). We also know that adiposity tends to turn men into women and women into men (HERE). And this is just for starters.
Writing in The Scientist, a team of four authors recently published a piece titled How Muscles Age, and How Exercise Can Slow It, which contained a mountain of beneficial information on this topic, starting with the term sarcopenia. A SARCOMERE is the structural / functional unit of a muscle (click link for animated video). The word ‘penia’ means a “lack of” or “deficiency”. Thus, osteopenia is a lack of bone density — not quite to the point of OSTEOPOROSIS, but getting close, which would likewise make sarcopenia a condition of decreased muscle mass. If you’ve followed my site for any length of time you already know how harmful (EVEN DEADLY) most calcium supplements are. So; what might keep bones strong if CALCIUM SUPPLEMENTS (OR THE SUPPOSED ‘BONE-BUILDING’ DRUGS) don’t do it?
That’s easy; physical exercise. And not just any sort of physical exercise, but specifically STRENGTH TRAINING (I’m a huge KETTLEBELL fan myself). It’s why it’s not surprising that studies have shown that OBESITY CAUSES OSTEOPOROSIS, which itself leads to sarcopenia. The authors of the paper being discussed today made a similar point…
“Loss of muscle mass is associated with—and possibly preceded by—muscle weakness, which can make carrying out daily activities, such as climbing stairs or even getting up from a chair, difficult for many seniors. This can lead to inactivity, which itself leads to muscle loss at any age. Thus, older people can enter a vicious cycle that will eventually lead to an increased risk of falls, a loss of independence, and even premature death. The good news is that exercise can stave off and even reverse muscle loss and weakness.”
The authors went on to talk about four distinct exercise-related areas that are coming increasingly into focus as they become better understood; mitochondrial health, stem cell production, increased protein turnover, and the many functions of signaling molecules. MITOCHONDRIAL HEALTH is critical because mitochondria are responsible for manufacturing all (as in all) of your body’s cellular energy. Mitochondrial dysfunction not only results in numerous disease processes, but lethargic, often times exhausted people. New research has revealed that sarcopenia tends to trigger a downregulation of mitochondrial function (mitochondria should make up over 10% of the volume of muscle). Unfortunately, as mitochondrial function lessens, muscles will invariably (and probably rapidly) lose more of their mass and strength, leading to even greater downregulation of the mitochondria — a true vicious cycle in the making. But it doesn’t stop there….
“transcriptomes of rat and human muscle [have] susceptibility to sarcopenia, closely linked to deregulation of gene networks involved in mitochondrial processes, regulation of the extracellular matrix, and fibrosis, the formation of excess connective tissue in a muscle caused by the accumulation of extracellular matrix proteins.”
They are talking here about FIBROSIS (I call it SCAR TISSUE in my clinic), which is characterized as a DENSIFICATION or “THICKENING” of the connective tissues, along with an increase in the amount and thickness of the jelly-like ECM, all of which happens to be the leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide (HERE, HERE, and HERE). Because the transcriptome refers to all of an organism’s mtRNA (mitochondrial RNA), we can see how serious this situation can be. Let’s now turn our attention to their third point; muscle stem cells, aka satellite cells.
Muscle fibers are interesting birds because they rely totally on stem cells for growth and repair. The problem is that even though satellite cells make up about eight percent of the number of muscle cell nuclei in young adults, by the time a person reaches age 70, that number has dropped to .8% — a depreciation of (gulp) 1,000%. This is one of the reasons that older folks don’t recover from injury as quickly as the young. Here’s what’s mind-bending though. When this team of scientists attempted to culture geriatric satellite cells in a Petri dish, they grew as well and as rapidly as the satellite cells from young folks. What this means is that there is something acting on said cells in the body to produce the aging effect. What was the culprit?
“The elderly human satellite cells we examined did, however, show dramatic changes in their epigenetic fingerprint, with the repression of many genes by DNA methylation.”
Allow me to unpack this for you. Having written numerous articles on EPIGENETICS, rest assured that in the vast majority of people, it is a far more important concept for you to grasp than genetics (HERE). Epigenetics simply means that even though people carry genes for a myriad of who-knows-what kinds of ugly diseases, most of these diseases are never expressed. However, there are certain things that can “turn on” these dormant genes, causing them to express themselves with varying degrees of symptoms of an unlimited number of diseases. What are we talking about here? Even though you may not “know,” you already know —- SMOKING, DRINKING, consuming too much sugar or processed carbohydrate (HERE), etc, etc, etc…….. Or maybe not enough physical exertion / exercise. Whichever way it occurs, suppress DNA METHYLATION and you have problems on your hands — serious problems.
Last on the list was protein quality control. The authors began this section by saying that even though elderly people may consume significant amounts of protein, their bodies are breaking it down so rapidly that they lose muscle mass anyway. They also spoke of diminished autophagy, the process where the body recycles used, old, or damaged proteins to be used in building new proteins. Furthermore, if the body cannot clear these old proteins fast enough, they accumulate in the cells, causing muscles to further atrophy and weaken. While I would not argue that either of these points are true, it’s important to realize that people’s stomach acid tends to get weaker with age (HERE) as well; a huge and unmentioned factor in being able to properly digest and assimilate the protein one is consuming.
Remember when I showed you that “old” muscle stem cells grown in a test tube grew like young muscles? “It is now well known that the levels of circulating hormones and growth factors drastically decrease with age and that this has an effect on muscle aging. Indeed, hormone replacement therapy can efficiently reverse muscle aging, in part by activating pathways involved in protein synthesis.” Although I mentioned it in the list at the top of the page, the foremost of these is HGH or Human Growth Hormone. So much so that when you see a medical clinic advertising “anti-aging”, I promise that the ultimate goal is to get you to pony up for injections of HGH — the hormone that turned Barry Bonds from a true ‘baseball player’ into a bison-headed home run machine.
There are, however, about a jillion other “GROWTH FACTORS” besides HGH that are critical for soft tissue healing (many of these could actually be referred to as “INFLAMMATION“). It’s important to remember that inflammation is critical for healing damaged tissues in the proper amounts; it’s when there is too much that it becomes problematic. And in the same way that I’ve shown you that fatty tissue (adipose) is an endocrine organ (see earlier link), these authors are quick to point out that muscle tissue is as well.
What do most of the growth factors mentioned have in common? Something I’ve spoken of at length on my site; stimulating fibroblastic activity (HERE or HERE — fibroblasts are cells that “build” collagen and other proteins needed for building / healing soft tissues, muscles included). Be aware, however, that not all of these “factors” are helpful (particularly in large amounts) since INFLAMMATION ALWAYS LEADS TO FIBROSIS.
One of the chief ‘growth factors’ (myokines) mentioned in this paper happened to be the ultra-common IL-6 — an inflammatory marker which “makes the elderly more prone to sarcopenia,” among a host of others (see link). Another factor, IGF-1, was dealt with as well. “Another myokine, insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), can trigger the swelling of muscle fibers, including after exercise. IGF-1 levels decrease with age, as do levels of the cell-surface receptor that IGF-1 binds to, and mice that overexpress IGF-1 are resistant to age-related sarcopenia.“
Cool to know, but the bottom line is what can a person do about it on their own, without dangerous or expensive drugs such as HGH or THE BIG FIVE, or doctor visits? Exercise. In one study, not only were the muscles of older cyclists who had exercised their entire lives virtually identical to the muscles of younger cyclists, their immune systems were likewise indistinguishable. Essentially, exercise benefits and helps regulate each and every one of the four points mentioned today. On top of all of this, the authors even spoke about going into surgeries in a “preconditioned” fashion — something I dealt with exactly one year ago today (HERE). And for the love of Pete, be sure to add some sort of RESISTANCE TRAINING to your regimen, however short, as research has shown it to be metabolically superior to other forms of exercise.
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