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Status: 08.12.2019 17:21:13
Increasing age is accompanied by a loss of skeletal muscle and increase in body fat. This leads to an increased risk of metabolic disease as well as reduction in physical fitness and capacity, which in turn influence quality of life and social participation in old age.
The scientists of the Department of Nutrition and Gerontology pursue the question to which degree age and aging processes influence nutrition and metabolism. Furthermore, they explore the impact of age-associated changes in body composition on metabolic processes and physical fitness.
Body composition changes with age. In most cases, the amount of fat and connective tissue increases, while bone mass as well as skeletal muscle mass decease. This loss of skeletal mass, also known as sarcopenia, has extensive consequences that manifest in reduced mobility with an increased risk of falls and fractures, frailty syndrome as well as in metabolic disturbances/impairments, e.g. reduced insulin sensitivity.
In recent years, research findings have indicated that skeletal muscle influences metabolism via various endocrine and paracrine mechanisms. Thus studying the effect of sarcopenia on a range of metabolic processes is an evolving field of research.
The pathophysiology of sarcopenia, or rather the underlying cause of the changes in body composition in old age are not entirely clear; however, they appear to be multifactorial and encompass hormonal, immunological and neuromuscular changes as well as lifestyle factors. These include, for example, low physical activity and inadequate nutrition.
With respect to nutrition, internal (endogenous) as well as external (exogenous) factors come into effect. On the one hand, metabolic processes are known to lead to a reduction in muscle protein synthesis after a meal (postprandial) with increasing age. On the other hand, the nutrient composition of diets in old age is often not adequate in order to maintain an optimal muscle protein balance. At the same time, a complex but, as yet, unknown interaction between nutrition related factors and various age-associated processes that promotes/favors, among other things, muscle degeneration. Additionally, the immune system progressively weakens with increasing age (immunosenescence) and the incidence of disease (morbidity) increases. This may contribute to a change in nutritional requirements. Further complicating the situation is the fact that nutrient requirements in old age have not been sufficiently established.
Our overall objective is to gain a better understanding of the interactions between nutrition and body composition in old age. Particularly of interest are the effects of nutrition on muscle mass, which is crucial for physical fitness/capacity and healthy aging. To achieve this, we carry out clinical and experimental human intervention studies with the goal of developing innovative nutrition concepts that help the preservation and building up of muscle mass. Furthermore, we want to contribute to a better understanding of the age-associated pathophysiology of sarcopenia by investigate the complex interaction between biomarkers of sarcopenia, immunoscenescence and nutrition-related physiological processes.
The researcher of the Department work in close collaboration with the working group Nutrition and Body Composition, also led by Prof. Norman, within the Research Group on Geriatrics at the Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin .
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