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Before the Fall

Research aims to improve muscle strength through amino acids

Foot Anatomy Illustration

Illustration by Shubhangi Ganeshrao Kene

Most people start losing muscle mass as they enter their 30s, a condition known as sarcopenia. Studies show that people who are physically inactive can lose up to five percent of their muscle mass each decade after they hit that milestone. Muscle weakness accelerates among the elderly and is a leading cause of frailty, which in turn heightens the risk of falls, injuries, and musculoskeletal diseases.

Marco Brotto, an internationally renowned expert on muscle physiology in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation, has been studying methods to improve muscle mass and strength, particularly among the elderly.

"Knowledge and insights that will lead into new mechanisms and future therapies are urgently needed to alleviate the suffering of billions worldwide," Dr. Brotto says.

Along with Sean Garvey, a nutrition scientist at Abbott Laboratories, Brotto is specifically evaluating the effects of amino acid supplements on muscle mass and strength. He says that while a regular muscle-building regimen can help reverse the onset of sarcopenia, many elderly people lack access to exercise facilities or may be hobbled by ailments that prevent them from exercising. In these cases, supplements can be particularly helpful.

One of the pair's published studies, which appeared in the journal PlosOne earlier this year, showed that supplements not only helped, but they also played a significant role in increasing muscle strength.

"Falls are the leading cause of injuries and the No. 1 cause of death among adults 65 and over," says Brotto, a George and Hazel M. Jay Professor. "But falls are caused by a combination of factors, and we need to attack falls from all angles."

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