Common Drug May Prevent Muscle Loss

Although older adults are enjoying greater longevity, age-related muscle loss continues to be a contributing factor to falls and injury that often leads to a loss of independence.  Weight-bearing exercise and a healthy diet can help prevent sarcopenia but according to a recent Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) report, a loss of muscle mass affects every second or third senior over the age of 80.  

Swiss adults are known for their longevity. Men, on average, live to 81.3 and women to 85.3 but sarcopenia caused by age-related changes in metabolism and nerves supplying muscles can hinder mobility, independence, and quality of life. 

Researchers at the University of Basel’s Biozentrum have been investigating how a well-known drug, rapamycin, can help slow muscle wasting among elderly adults by suppressing mTORC1, a key molecular signature of sarcopenia.  Using rapamycin to suppress mTORC1, which acts as a sensor and controls protein synthesis, studies on aging mice show great benefit in preserving muscle size and mass. 

Rapamycin is used to prevent organ transplant rejection and to coat coronary stents; the drug suppresses the immune system which could pose a problem for elderly adults.  The drug, which has also been studied for its potential to boost longevity, may also increase the risk for diabetes by hindering the body’s ability to stabilize blood sugar levels with prolonged use. 

Until further research determines if a drug could help elderly adults maintain muscle mass, older adults can help prevent frailty leading to falls and a loss of independence by eating a protein-rich diet along with plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.  Staying physically active with a combination of aerobic exercise and strength training will also preserve muscle strength.  

As with any new exercise program or changes to diet, talk with your doctor first, and start slowly.  Be patient and stick with a well-rounded program; it may take between six and eight weeks before changes in muscle strength and endurance are noticeable.