Causes of skeletal muscle weakness and atrophy due to aging

Causes of skeletal muscle weaknessResearchers have discovered a protein – ATF4 – which contributes to skeletal muscle weakness and atrophy during aging. The study was conducted by the University of Iowa and published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Researchers uncovered the protein ATF4 causes a reduction in muscle synthesis, strength and mass. Additionally, they found two compounds which can slow down the activity of ATF4. One of these compounds is found in apples and the other is found in green tomatoes. Researchers are hopeful that their findings can aid in better treatments for skeletal muscle weakness and atrophy through aging.


Senior study author Christopher Adams said, “Many of us know from our own experiences that muscle weakness and atrophy are big problems as we become older. These problems have a major impact on our quality of life and health.”

Previous research conducted by Adams and his team uncovered the compounds in the fruit to prevent acute muscle wasting which is caused by starvation and inactivity. The compounds – ursolic acid and tomatidine – were used for testing to determine if they would be effective at blocking aging – a large cause of skeletal muscle weakness and atrophy.

In mice models the researchers found more ursolic acid and tomatidine led to a reduction in age-related muscle weakness and atrophy. Mice were either fed the compounds or denied them. What researchers found was the mice which consumed the compounds had an increase in muscle quality and strength.

Adams added, “Based on these results, ursolic acid and tomatidine appear to have a lot of potential as tools for dealing with muscle weakness and atrophy during aging. We also thought we might be able to use ursolic acid and tomatidine as tools to find a root cause of muscle weakness and atrophy during aging.” He concluded, “By reducing ATF4 activity, ursolic acid and tomatidine allow skeletal muscle to recover from effects of aging.”

What causes muscle weakness in the elderly

From the moment we are born we start to grow – we get taller and stronger. But at some point – typically around our 30s – our strength begins to diminish as we lose muscle. This is called age-related sarcopenia and, although it starts in your 30s, it will accelerate around 75.

Sarcopenia can be seen in both people who are active and those who are inactive – although in those who are inactive it occurs more quickly, thus it is important to exercise. But aside from inactivity there are other factors which contribute to sarcopenia, like:

  • Reduction in nerve cells which are responsible to signal the brain to move muscles – this is due to aging
  • Reduction in hormones like testosterone and growth hormone
  • The body reduces its ability to synthesize protein
  • Reduction of calories and protein required for muscle repair

Age-related changes in muscles

Age related change in musclesAging can create many changes in the body, especially in your bones and muscles. For starters, muscle fibers reduce in numbers and shrink, replacement of muscle tissue occurs more slowly and changes to signaling nerves reduce the ability for movement and contraction. For these reasons it can result in skeletal muscle weakness and atrophy.

Symptoms of age-related muscle loss include muscle weakness, loss of stability and stamina and a reduction of physical activity which worsens the muscle loss.

Even though muscle loss seems like a natural part of aging, you can drastically slow or delay the process by staying as active as possible. Resistance or strength training are great forms of exercise which promote muscles, and as long as you are enjoying adequate protein to repair muscles you can still maintain them.

Other treatments for muscle loss include hormone replacement therapy and urocortin II. These treatments aim to stimulate muscle growth and prevent atrophy.

Muscle loss can put a person at risk for injury so it’s important to try and maintain muscle mass as much as possible. Keeping active is an easy way to slow down age-related muscle loss.

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