Field Notes

Protein Supplement May Help Repair Muscles in Older Adults

Whey protein supplements aren’t just for gym buffs, according to new research from McMaster University. When taken on a regular basis, a combination of these and other ingredients in a ready-to-drink formula have been found to greatly improve the physical strength of a growing cohort: senior citizens.

The deterioration of muscle mass and strength that’s a normal part of aging—known as sarcopenia—can increase the risk of falls, metabolic disorders, and the need for assisted living, researchers say.

“Older people who do little to prevent the progression of sarcopenia drift toward a state where they find activities of daily living, like rising from a chair or ascending stairs, very difficult or maybe impossible,” says lead scientist Stuart Phillips, PhD, a professor in the department of kinesiology and member of McMaster’s Institute for Research on Aging.

While a number of isolated nutritional ingredients have been shown to fight sarcopenia, this is the first time such ingredients—which include whey protein, creatine, vitamin D, calcium, and fish oil—have been combined and tested for this purpose.

For the study, which is published in the journal PLOS ONE, the research team recruited two groups of men aged 70 and older. One group took a protein-based, multi-ingredient nutritional supplement for six weeks without an exercise regimen, while the other group took a placebo. The objective was to evaluate whether daily consumption would result in gains in strength and lean body mass.

Following those six weeks, subjects continued to take the supplement (and placebo) while also undertaking a 12-week progressive exercise training program consisting of resistance and high-intensity interval training.

“We chose that combination of exercises to get a maximal benefit in terms of fitness and muscle strength,” says Gianni Parise, PhD, scientific colead on the study. “I know many think older persons can’t do that type of exercise, but that’s simply untrue.”

“The results were more impressive than we expected,” says Kirsten Bell, a PhD student who worked on the study.

Most notably, the findings showed improvements in deteriorating muscle health and overall strength for participants both before and after the exercise regimen.

In the first six weeks, the supplement resulted in 700 g of gains in lean body mass—the same amount of muscle these men would normally have lost in a year. And when combined with exercise twice weekly, participants noticed greater strength gains—especially when compared with their placebo-taking counterparts.

“Clearly, exercise is a key part of the greatly improved health profile of our subjects,” Bell says, “but we are very excited by the enhancements the supplement alone and in combination with exercise was able to give to our participants.”

— Source: McMaster University


Endocrine Society Issues Scientific Statement on Obesity Causes

A new scientific statement issued by the Endocrine Society calls for more research aimed specifically at understanding the underlying mechanisms that make it difficult to maintain long-term weight loss.

Despite decades of research and billions of dollars spent each year on treatment, understanding of the underlying causes of obesity remains limited. One in three American adults is affected by obesity, and it costs an estimated $147 billion a year to treat obesity and its consequences in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Growing evidence suggests obesity is a disorder of the body’s intricate energy balance systems. Once an individual loses weight, the body typically reduces the amount of energy expended at rest and during exercise and daily activities while increasing hunger. This combination of lower energy expenditure and hunger creates a “perfect metabolic storm” of conditions for weight gain.

“Because of the body’s energy balance adjustments, most individuals who successfully lose weight struggle to maintain weight loss over time,” says Michael W. Schwartz, MD, of the University of Washington in Seattle and chair of the task force that authored the society’s scientific statement. “To effectively treat obesity, we need to better understand the mechanisms that cause this phenomenon and to devise interventions that specifically address them. Our therapeutic focus has traditionally been on achieving weight reduction. Most patients can do this; what they have the most trouble with is keeping the weight off.

“Health care providers and patients need to view this tendency as the body’s expected response to weight loss rather than as a sign of a failed treatment regimen or noncompliance with treatment,” Schwartz says.

The Endocrine Society’s statement also calls for additional research into factors influencing obesity, including the following:

• interactions between genetics, developmental influences, and the environment. Though a substantial portion of obesity risk is conveyed by genes, researchers haven’t yet been able to identify all of the relevant genes and to understand the nature of their interactions with developmental processes and the environment;

• the effect of endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as bisphenol A on obesity;

• the microbiome, or bacteria in the gut, and its interactions with the endocrine and digestive systems as well as the brain;

• the reasons behind the therapeutic success of bariatric surgery;

• the role that diet composition plays in the development of obesity;

• biological markers and predictors for diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions that often develop in conjunction with obesity;

• the effects of socioeconomic status on obesity risk; and

• brain imaging to better understand appetite and feeding behavior.

— Source: Endocrine Society