Age And Long-Term Conditions Are Linked To Accelerated Loss Of Skeletal Muscle

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A new study led by the AGE Research Group, Newcastle University and Newcastle upon Tyne NHS Foundation Trust, UK, describes the prevalence of sarcopenia in the UK Biobank, a large sample of men and women aged 40–70 years, exploring the relationships of loss of muscle strength with different categories of long‐term and other conditions.

The AGE Research Group works to improve lives through world-class translational research in ageing and long-term conditions, including sarcopenia, frailty and multimorbidity. Using a life course approach, they aim to translate findings from discovery science into advances in prevention, diagnosis and treatment. The research is a key part of the cross-cutting theme of Ageing Syndromes within the UK National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Newcastle Biomedical Research Centre.

A main interest of the group is sarcopenia, the accelerated loss of skeletal muscle which is more common at older ages and is linked to a range of health problems including disability. Recent European guidelines for the diagnosis of sarcopenia (with authors including Professor Avan Sayer, leader of the AGE Research Group) suggest that sarcopenia may also occur at younger ages in the setting of long-term conditions such as heart or liver disease. However, there has been little research in this area, especially to look at which long-term conditions pose the greatest risk of sarcopenia. 

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The new analysis of data from 499,046 people taking part in UK Biobank published in the Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle looked at the links between long-term conditions and sarcopenia, identified from low measured handgrip strength.  It was found that overall 5% of people were likely to have sarcopenia. This became more common with age and with the number of long-term conditions. Long-term conditions affecting bones and joints, endocrine conditions such as diabetes and conditions affecting the brain and nervous system posed the greatest risk of sarcopenia.

The study is important as it suggests that particular groups could be targeted for interventions in mid‐life aimed at the prevention and treatment of sarcopenia.