For those perhaps not familiar with sarcopenia, it is a term that was coined by the Greek university professor of nutrition and medicine at Tufts University’s USDA Human Nutrition Research Center Irwin H. Rosenberg in 1988. And it is the adjoining of two Greek words, “sarx,” meaning flesh, and “penia,” which means loss. Starting in their 40s, most men and women will lose about 3 percent of muscle strength every year. This same decline in muscle strength, for some individuals, can lead to severe muscle degeneration and exceedingly low bone density, both of which are the hallmarks of sarcopenia. While this age-related health problem can impact men and women alike, it is far more common among men. For reference, sarcopenia affects the lives of 19.2 percent of older men and 8.6 percent of older women, according to a study published by the National Institutes of Health.
Aging and Body Changes: Factors That Negatively Affect Muscle Mass in Middle-Aged Men
For the most part, a decline in hormone production explains why some men begin to lose muscle mass in their 40s, namely testosterone and human growth hormones. To further put this into context, let’s take a look at what happens to HGH levels as men get older. After age 30, the pituitary gland, one of many hormone-secreting glands in the body’s endocrine system, gradually secretes fewer human growth hormones. By age 40, the same bean-shaped gland, located at the lower region of the brain, only secretes about 200 mg of growth hormones per day compared to 500 mg per day at age 20. And by age 60, the drop-off in production is even more substantial in that the pituitary gland only secretes around 25 mg of HGH per day.
Testosterone, which is secreted primarily by the testes, also becomes less abundant in middle-age and, as a result, increases the probability of muscle loss. In a study published by Harvard Health Publishing, which is part of Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA, researchers found that testosterone production can decline by as much as 1 percent each year after men turn 40.
Once growth hormone (GH) and testosterone levels fall below 0.4 nanograms per milliliter (ng/dL) and 280 ng/dL, respectively, most men will notice a decline in muscle mass and overall strength. The longer this hormone imbalance goes untreated, the more likely men are to develop sarcopenia. While we are on the topic, it is worth noting that sarcopenia can increase the risk of falls and bone fractures. And it does not end there. According to a study published by Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, an esteemed open access peer-reviewed medical journal, sarcopenia can lead to the following as well:
- Functional disability
- High healthcare costs
- An increased risk of death
Muscle Loss: Additional Common Causes Among Middle-Aged Men
Along with age-related hormone imbalances, a decline in muscle mass, particularly among middle-aged men, can also stem from poor lifestyle choices, some of which include the following:
Lack of exercise – It is a well-established fact that regular exercise improves overall health. However, the inverse is also true insomuch that a lack of exercise can pave the way for health problems. And a decline in muscle mass in middle age is no exception. According to a study published by the National Institutes of Health, exercise avoidance lasting for just 2 to 3 weeks is enough to trigger a decline in muscle mass and strength in older adults.
Why Muscle Mass and Extra Weight Are Connected
Another reason to exercise regularly is to maintain a healthy weight. Generally speaking, overweight and obese individuals are at a high risk of experiencing muscle loss. And this can quickly set the stage for sarcopenia. According to Frontiers in Endocrinology, carrying even a few extra pounds can negatively impact the following: insulin resistance, skeletal muscle lipid metabolism, and inflammatory pathways.
An unhealthy diet – Much like regular exercise, consuming a healthy diet is even more critical as we get older. After all, there is more than enough evidence to suggest that a diet made up of insufficient calories and low protein can eventually take a toll on muscle mass as we approach our golden years. For this reason, many nutritionists and dieticians advise consuming plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and, above all else, protein, which helps build muscle. Ideally, older adults should make it a point to consume meals that contain at least 25 to 30 grams of protein.
Stress – While stress is an emotional response to events in our lives, it can also be a physical one as overly stressed individuals are more likely to develop kidney and liver disease. These two chronic diseases, according to many epidemiologists, are linked to sarcopenia. Therefore, finding ways to better cope with stress, such as exercising or meditating, is especially critical for older adults.
Inflammation – Most will agree that inflammation is painful, but it can also give way to a decline in muscle mass if left untreated, say many rheumatologists. Therefore, older adults with inflammation-causing diseases, such as ulcerative colitis, lupus, or Crohn’s disease, should carefully follow any treatment protocols outlined by their physician to prevent them from becoming worse and eventually contributing to muscle loss.
How Men Over 40 Can Prevent Muscle Loss
To recap, exercising regularly and consuming a healthy, well-balanced diet can go a long way toward enabling men over 40 to hold on to more muscle mass. The same applies to managing inflammation and keeping stress to a minimum. Of course, there are other things that men can do that will help in this regard, such as taking dietary supplements.
Supplements and Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): Ways to Develop Muscle Mass in Middle-Aged Men
Ideally, the first thing that men should do if they are experiencing a decline in muscle mass is to schedule an appointment with an endocrinologist. And this is important since a loss of strength and muscle mass are both hallmarks of low growth hormone levels. Typically, these practitioners will perform one or more blood tests to gauge just how much HGH is in an individual’s blood. In cases where an individual has an GH deficiency that is a factor in their loss of strength and muscle mass, most endocrinologists will typically recommend HGH replacement therapy for men. For context, GH-based HRT is a treatment that involves the use of Growth hormone replacement drugs, which increases low hormone levels while resolving many of the ill-effects associated with a GH deficiency.
Some of the growth hormone replacement drugs that are effective in boosting low GH levels, which, in turn, helps with muscle loss, are said to include Humatrope, Saizen, and Nutropin. GH-based HRT can also benefit individuals with low testosterone levels linked to muscle loss. In these cases, many practitioners will prescribe Androderm or a similar testosterone replacement drug. Along with HGH and testosterone replacement drugs, some endocrinologists will encourage individuals to take dietary supplements, which can help build or, at the very least, slow down muscle loss. Some of the ones commonly recommended by nutritionists and dieticians include the following:
- Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)
All in all, the ability to live a long life is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you can experience so many amazing things, such as watching your children grow up. However, a long life can also open the door to numerous health problems, including muscle loss. Fortunately, the combination of modern-day medicine and dietary supplements is making it possible for older adults to enjoy a long life with fewer health problems, including sarcopenia.