You have no doubt heard the famous quote “growing old is not for the faint of heart.”
Even if we take growing old with humor and good grace, there is still a certain amount of truth in that quote. As we all age, we find it more difficult to perform certain actions that we were previously able to do quite easily. It could make even the most good-natured among us frustrated and disappointed. In fact, you very well may have heard similar such sentiments from some of your elderly patients, particularly if they are used to being active and independent.
One of the most common causes for reduced activity among the elderly is a condition known as sarcopenia, or reduced lean muscle mass and strength. This reduced muscle capability can often lead to falls, osteoporosis, hospitalization, and sometimes death among the elderly.1
In fact, a 2014 study found a prevalence rate for sarcopenia of 1 percent to 29 percent for elderly living in the community, and 14 percent to 33 percent among those living in long-term care situations.1 However, a recent study appears to have found that a common nutritional supplement may actually offset loss of muscle mass and strength as a result of sarcopenia due to age.
What causes sarcopenia?
Sarcopenia is caused by two of the most common problems often plaguing the elderly – a sedentary lifestyle and lack of proper nutrition, particularly protein.2,3 A lack of exercise can lead to muscle breakdown, which can start a cycle of muscle loss, injury, improper muscle repair, and then another injury.
A deficiency of protein in the diet can slow down necessary muscle growth to carry out such repairs after an injury.2,3
Diagnosing sarcopenia is relatively easy, with the aid of scanning for bone density, as well as testing for grip strength and performing a gait analysis. Several studies have recommended a combination of a nutritional and an exercise intervention.1
What is whey?
Whey is one of the two types of protein found in milk and contains amino acids that can help build muscle mass.4 When cheese or yogurt are made from milk, the fat coagulates, which separates out from the whey.
The watery substance that sometimes is found at the top of yogurt containers is actually whey. It is processed into a powder with flavoring added to become a protein supplement.
Whey protein supplement to stimulate lean muscle mass
In a recent article in PLOS ONE, a group of 49 healthy older men were given either whey protein or a control substance, twice daily for 20 weeks, to determine the effect upon lean muscle mass and upper body strength.5 For the first six weeks, the subjects were only given the supplements. For the following 12 weeks, they also underwent an exercise program.
The researchers found that subjects who took the whey protein developed more upper body strength and lean muscle mass than those who took the control substance.5 Furthermore, exercise increased this effect.
While it may still be true that getting old is not for the faint of heart, adding whey protein into your elderly patients’ diet, along with an exercise program, may make it easier for them to face the prospect of getting older.
- Cruz-Jentoft AJ, Landi F, Schneider SM, et al. (2014). Prevalence of and interventions for sarcopenia in ageing adults: A systematic review. Report of the International Sarcopenia Initiative (EWGSOP and IWGS). Age and Ageing, 43(6), 748-759.
- Barbieri E, Agostini D, Polidori E, et al. (2015). The pleiotropic effect of physical exercise on mitochondrial dynamics in aging skeletal muscle. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 917085.
- Berner LA, Becker G, Wise M, Doi J. (2013). Characterization of dietary protein among older adults in the United States: Amount, animal sources, and meal patterns. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 113(6), 809-815.
- Whey protein 101. Accessed 10/24/2017.
- Bell KE, Snijders T, Zulyniak M, et al. (2017). A whey protein-based multi-ingredient nutritional supplement stimulates gains in lean body mass and strength in healthy older men: A randomized controlled trial. PLOS ONE, 12(7), e0181387.