Most athletes are trying to take greater advantage of the fact that muscle develops in response to physical exercise. One important way to optimize the anabolics of exercise is through the application of smart nutritional strategies, the reason, I suppose, that many of you are reading this blog today.
We Are The Product of Mechano-sensitive Developmental Programs
Muscle, however, is not the only tissue of our body that develops in response to physical (aka “mechanical”) stimulation. In fact, over 80% of our entire body mass arises from tissues whose developmental programs are regulated be mechanical stimulation. Such “mechanosensitive” tissues include not only skeletal muscle, the most obvious example, but also tendons, cartilage (as that which cushions the contacts between bones in our joints) and bones, to name the most notable. Of these common examples, skeletal muscle is the most predominant in mere proportion of total body mass as well as the most sensitive to mechanical input.
Muscular Activity Maintains Other Mechano-Sensitive Developmental Programs
Contracting our muscles against a resistance (that is, exercise) causes them to grow as well as provides a mechanical stimulus that maintains, and even fortifies, these other structural mechanosensitive tissues. In fact, clinical conditions where skeletal muscle mass is severely reduced for extended periods are frequently associated with the reabsorption of bone, largely because of the reduced mechanical stimulation arising from fewer and smaller muscle fibers. Sadly, one form of chronic muscle loss will eventually effect us all – the issue is how long we can keep it at bay.
Sarcopenia: The Loss of Muscle With Advanced Age
Advanced age is accompanied by a loss of muscle mass, a clinical condition known as Sarcopenia. Sarcopenia literally meaning the absence (penia) of flesh (sarco) in latin. Muscle loss generally commences after the fifth decade, but can be offset by several years by an active lifestyle and healthy diet. On the other hand, sedentary individuals can commence sarcopenia as early as 30 years of age. Some experts assert that strength declines to a disproportionately greater degree than would be expected from the amount muscle loss measured. As sarcopenia can account for up to a 40% decrease in muscle mass by age 80, the resulting decrease in strength could be devastating to an elderly person’s quality of life…
How creatine supplementation can be used to combat sarcopenia is discussed at the following link: http://www.creatinemonohydrate.net/creatine_sarcopenia.html
Creatine Supplementation Preserves Muscle Mass in the Elderly
Earlier studies have demonstrated that creatine supplementation imparts greater improvements in physical performance in elderly subjects, when compared to middle aged cohorts. It is thus no surprise that the study we discuss today (originating from one of the same groups mentioned above) similarly showed improved strength in elderly who supplemented with creatine monohydrate. The effect that creatine supplementation had on bone formation (osteogenesis) was somewhat more novel.
“Creatine Monohydrate and Resistance Training Increase Bone Mineral Content and Density in Older Men.” Chilibeck et al. (2005) The Journal of Nutrition Health and Aging Volume 9(5) pages 352-355
This study examined the effect of creatine supplementation and resistance exercise (weight lifting) on bone formation in elderly subjects. Twenty nine males of mean age 71 years underwent twelve weeks of resistance training; half of the subjects supplemented with creatine, while the other half took placebo. Initially, there was no difference in bone mineral content between the two groups. As expected, exercise alone had a positive effect on bone mineral content, an effect that was further accentuated in the creatine group, particularly in the bones of the arms. The authors of the study suggested that the increased force generated by muscles during training and in conjunction with creatine supplementation served as an anabolic (mechanical) stimulus for the production of new bone tissue.
I always try and end on a positive note and this time it will be easy. As a researcher in biomedical engineering (one that is turning the corner on 50…) I am truly excited about the potential for creatine to improve the quality of life of the elderly. In fact, how to offset sarcopenia, the decline in muscle mass associated with advanced age, is a major scientific focus of mine.
The human race is aging at an alarming rate. It is estimated that in the United States alone the number of individuals over 65 years of age will double in only 25 years. This trend has the potential to create a national economic crisis as age-related diseases begin to predominate in the clinical arena.
Again, sarcopenia can result in a substantial amount of muscle loss in later life, which can have devastating consequences. First, as skeletal muscle is an essential buffer for many important metabolites, sarcopenia predisposes the elderly to infection as well as reduces their resilience to trauma. Secondly, as muscular activity provides a mechanical stimulus that supports the mechanosensitive developmental programs of bones and tendons, severe losses of skeletal musculature also compromises these other important developmental programs as well as contributes to the development of osteoporosis. Finally, areas of most muscle loss (because of sarcopenia) are infiltrated by fat. Fat, in turn, releases cytokines that shift bone and muscle towards catabolism (breakdown). The combination of these factors feeds forward an autodegenerative that literally consume the elderly into a state of fatal fragility.
Importantly, creatine supplementation is turning out to be a viable method to sustain bone and muscle mass into later life, which is certainly a step in the right direction.
My creatine guide gives a supplementing protocol specifically designed for the elderly: http://www.creatinemonohydrate.net/creatineguide
Can Creatine Offset Osteoporosis in Elderly Women???
Based on this study the effect of creatine supplementation on osteoporosis is women merits examination in future studies. In the next series of posts I’ll discuss other biochemical mechanisms whereby creatine may help preserve muscle mass in the elderly; in some cases independently of exercise. Until then, stay tuned…