Recent research is taking an in-depth look at the effectiveness of HMB supplement for slowing muscle loss in seniors and the results are promising
A 2017 meta-analysis of 58,404 people aged 60 and over revealed that one in 10 meet the criteria for sarcopenia. For purposes of this study, sarcopenia was defined as having low muscle mass along with reduced muscle strength (which was assessed with handgrip strength) or physical performance (which was assessed using gait speed). Its findings were published in the Journal of Diabetes & Metabolic Disorders, and for many doctors it supports the need for hydroxymethylbutyrate (HMB supplement) in this age group.
A 2020 study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that this number may be much higher for older patients in an inpatient setting. After analyzing the handgrip strength and muscle quantity of 305 hospitalized patients 65-years-old and older, confirmed sarcopenia was found in 22.6% of the subjects with probable sarcopenia found in 24.6%.
Based on studies such as these, finding a way to slow muscle breakdown in seniors is an important goal.
What is HMB supplement?
HMB is short for beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate, also sometimes referred to as hydroxymethylbutyrate. When the body breaks down the amino acid leucine, HMB is the natural byproduct. Though, it can also be consumed in supplemental form.
The Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) indicates that there is sufficient evidence to support HMB’s claimed benefits related to its positive effects on muscle. Specifically, it might speed recovery from exercise intense enough to damage the skeletal muscle, and with no reported adverse effects.
In February 2013, the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) published a position statement in agreement with the ODS’s findings, further outlining guidelines for use for active persons. Several more recent pieces of research are taking a more in-depth look at the effectiveness of HMB supplement for slowing muscle loss in seniors and the results appear to be promising.
What research says
In 2019, the Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging published a systematic review of three randomized controlled trials which assessed HMB’s effects on people aged 60 and older with sarcopenia. A total of 203 subjects were enrolled in these studies with their lean muscle mass, muscle strength, and muscle function assessed pre- and post-HMB supplementation. Researchers noted that the subject’s lean muscle mass increased after taking HMB supplement. Their muscle strength and function were also preserved.
A 2021 study published in the same journal found similar positive results. This randomized controlled trial involved 62 participants with a mean age of 71.1 years. The intervention group consumed a high-protein drink containing 3g HMB daily for 12 weeks. The remaining subjects served as a control.
The group receiving the HMB-containing drink had significant improvements in the cross-sectional area of their mid-thigh muscle. They also had increased vitamin D serum levels. Researchers concluded that this supplementation “increased muscle mass, as well as nutritional status and physical performance, and ameliorated the intramuscular adiposity of pre-frail older persons.”
A 2017 study in the Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle adds that HMB supplement has more optimal effects on muscle size and strength when combined with exercise. Additionally, it provides these potential benefits in part by stimulating protein synthesis and increasing the production of satellite cells, thus improving tissue repair. It also works by decreasing muscle protein breakdown.
HMB usage guidelines
A number of the research studies published have involved subjects taking approximately 3 grams of HMB daily. The ODS reports no safety concerns for this dosage amount.
In a 2017 article published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care, researchers from the Center for Translational Research in Aging & Longevity at Texas A&M University’s Department of Health and Kinesiology suggest that bioavailability is slightly better with the calcium salt form of HMB, also referred to as Ca-HMB. Its peak concentration also remains elevated for longer periods of time (up to 12 hours) when combined with a high-protein nutritional supplement.
Because HMB appears to be more effective at protecting if not enhancing muscle strength and size when combined with exercise, older patients should be encouraged to supplement their usage with regular physical activity. This may make HMB’s effects more pronounced.
Patients may even notice other positive effects after taking HMB. Research indicates that these additional effects can include a reduction in cardiovascular risk factors. Namely, when compared to a placebo, HMB was found to reduce total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and systolic blood pressure. This can provide even more benefits to older patients with these health goals.