The importance of maintaining strong muscles as you age can’t be stressed enough. Having strong muscles helps support your bones, which translates to a reduced risk of injury. But for many seniors, building and maintaining muscle is difficult.
It’s suggested that one way to increase muscles is to take amino acid supplements. Amino acids are necessary to build muscle proteins. Many amino acids are produced by the body, but some are not, so they must be derived from our diet. Amino acids are particularly beneficial for those who are undernourished.
There have been several studies that explored the benefits of amino acid supplements, but they have yielded mixed results.
A recent Australian study re-analyzed the previous research to determine whether amino acid supplements are beneficial for older adults who are ill or frail.
The researchers identified randomized controlled clinical trials on seniors over the age of 60 with some type of acute disease or muscle loss who were given amino acids. They conducted a meta-analysis to determine the effects of amino acids on muscles, regardless of how small.
The researchers highlighted 39 studies that included 4,274 participants over the age of 60. Thirty-one of the studies gave participants protein-rich diets or supplements. Eight studies provided amino acid supplements to participants to be added to their diet.
Sixteen studies measured the effectiveness of amino acids on muscle mass and found that they did lead to increased muscle mass, but the size of the effect was relatively small.
Twenty-eight studies measured muscle strength using a handgrip or quadriceps strength test. Amino acid supplements did offer a small improvement in muscle strength but were most successful in participants who were undernourished. In these studies, amino acid supplements were more successful than protein supplements.
Thirty-four studies measured physical function. Once again, although the effects were positive for amino acids, they were still small. Furthermore, the most improvements were seen in those who were undernourished.
The researchers then aimed to determine the quality of the previous studies and only uncovered that nine were of high quality. Among the high-quality studies, findings did not suggest that amino acid supplementation was effective.
They recognize that although some studies may have been overlooked in their meta-analysis, there is some evidence out there to support that amino acids may benefit older adults, particularly the undernourished.
Additional high-quality studies need to be conducted to determine for sure whether seniors would benefit from supplementing with amino acids. For now, it’s important to stay well nourished to maintain and build muscle.
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