Many pathologies affect older people, including sarcopenia, considered to be an involuntary and constant loss of mass, loss of strength and muscle function, resulting from age and therefore so prevalent in the elderly. Sarcopenia has an ethology that is not yet well defined, but the factors that cause it to develop are diverse and range from a chronic inflammatory state to decreased appetite due to age.
In order to raise awareness to this phenomenon and promote its diagnosis and treatment, it has been suggested that this condition be considered a geriatric syndrome. This is because sarcopenia is more prevalent in the elderly population, several factors contribute towards its development, including aging itself, a sub-optimal diet, bed confinement, sedentary lifestyle, chronic diseases and certain medication.
Intervention to combat or minimize sarcopenia is fundamentally strength training and nutrition. Strength training can significantly alter the decline in muscle mass and nutrition can be supplemented with protein rich food and vitamin D.
Globally, low nutrient intake, secondary to age-related anorexia, is considered an important risk factor in the development and progression of sarcopenia. As far as protein is concerned, about 15% of individuals over the age of 60 years consume less than 75% of the recommended daily intake. Thus, although overall insufficient food intake may be related to sarcopenia, low protein intake appears to be a significant problem for the elderly and could be a potential target for strategies of intervention.
A daily protein intake of 1.200-1.500grams per day is therefore recommended in order to prevent sarcopenia, a quantity above the current recommendation for adults, which is 800grams per day.
Essential amino acids appear to be primarily responsible for stimulating muscle protein anabolism in healthy older adults. Recent data suggests that the use of leucine, an essential amino acid, stimulates protein synthesis. Food sources rich in leucine include but are not limited to soybean, meat and fish. As food of animal origin contain a higher value of essential amino acids when compared to food of plant origin, it is suggested that the elderly should be encouraged to consume a diet rich in lean food of animal origin.
Vitamin D is currently recognized as another potential intervention strategy for sarcopenia, as the elderly are at increased risk of developing vitamin D deficiency. Some people may try to meet their needs of vitamin D through sun exposure, although this is dependent on uncontrollable contextual factors, with aging the skin is no longer able to efficiently synthesize vitamin D. The best sources of vitamin D are salmon, tuna, sardines and herring, also found, but in lower doses, in liver and egg yolks. Vitamin D supplements can also be useful and help in the fight against sarcopenia.