A new study from Örebro University and the University of Nottingham sheds some light on the cause of muscle loss in old age. In a recently published article, Professor Fawzi Kadi of the Department of Sports Physiology and Medicine at Örebro University claimed that muscle loss is linked with elevated levels of CRP in our bloodstream
What is CRP and what does it indicate?
CRP refers to C-reactive protein—a substance that the liver produces. This protein is present in our immune system and usually presents in high levels in our blood when we have an infection. The presence of CRP in our body is indicative of inflammation. So, when blood tests reveal significantly high levels of this protein, it can be considered an indication of an inflammatory disease such as vasculitis, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis. If it persists and becomes chronic, it can also cause age-related diseases including conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. However, Kadi also links high CRP levels to loss of muscle mass.
The study that links CRP with muscle loss
After the age of 40, people lose approximately 10 percent of their muscle mass every decade, resulting in physical weakness and a slow metabolism. Kadi sought to study the cause of this muscle loss. He based his study on the inflammaging theory, which connects muscle loss to the presence of moderately high levels of inflammation indicators in the blood over a prolonged period of time. Since CRP is one indicator, he decided to study its levels.
Kadi and his team looked at the levels of CRP in women between 65 and 70 years of age. In addition, they also managed to expose muscle cells to CRP in a laboratory set-up to observe the cells reaction to CRP. They found that the exposed cells shrink in size. This helped them draw a clear correlation between CRP and muscle loss.
In addition, the research team from Örebro University and the University of Nottingham led by Kadi also found that protein synthesis in muscle cells was affected by CRP. Therefore, muscle mass loss would happen with high levels of CRP in the blood.
Implications of the Study
This study has inspired researchers like Andreas Nilsson, who is looking into the link between inflammaging and physical activities of a person, like how much they watch tv.
However, more importantly, this study has found the extent to which muscle cells shrink and how they synthesize protein upon exposure to CRP. This knowledge will help doctors and researchers find a way to reduce muscle loss or even prevent it if they find a way to regulate the CRP levels in the blood.
Subsequently, this ground-breaking study can lead to breakthroughs in the development of drugs that can control inflammation, thereby preventing muscle loss altogether. Since CRP is also linked with other degenerative diseases, these treatments would also help manage conditions such as lupus, vasculitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other age-related conditions such as Alzheimers and Parkinson’s.
Related: 4 ways to prevent muscle loss as you age