Importance of nutrition/nutritional interventions for muscle mass and inflammaging

Contact persons: Ulrike Haß, Prof. Dr. Kristina Norman

By the year 2060, almost one in three Germans will probably be 65 years or older. With this demographic change in mind, a long and healthy life becomes increasingly important. However, as life expectancy increases, age-related diseases are also on the rise, including typical age-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, but also less well-known ones such as sarcopenia, i.e. the age-related loss of muscle mass and strength. This functional muscle atrophy leads to increasing frailty with a higher risk of more frequent falls and fractures, leading to hospitalization and an increased need for care.

The pathophysiology of sarcopenia or the causes for the altered body composition in old age are not yet clearly understood. 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, endogenous and exogenous factors come into play. On the one hand, metabolic processes are known to cause reduced muscle growth with increasing age. On the other hand, the general nutrient composition of diets in old age is often insufficient to maintain an optimal muscle protein balance. This results in a complex interplay of nutritional factors and various ageing processes which, among other things, appear to promote muscle degeneration. Here, the weakening of the immune system in old age, i.e. immunosenescence, seems to play an important role.

With advancing years, one becomes more susceptible to inflammatory processes which attack the muscle mass and thus potentially promote the development of sarcopenia. Although there is currently no accepted gold standard for the detection of inflammation, increased concentrations of certain pro-inflammatory cytokines are regarded as an indication of this in the long term.

There are first indications that a change in dietary habits has a positive effect on inflammaging. It is still unclear to what extent an anti-inflammatory diet can be used preventively and therapeutically in this case and whether possible improvements in these inflammatory processes can also lead to improved muscle function. Therefore, there is currently an urgent need to verify the promising results from various cross-sectional and observational studies in controlled human studies and to translate these to people.

Against this background, we are currently conducting a study of the effects of inflammaging in older adults (men and women) aged 65 to 85 years. In addition to keeping to a generally healthy diet, the study participants are asked to follow a diet rich in anti-inflammatory protein and omega-3 fatty acids. The study participants further undergo regular vibration and strength training. The objectives of this study follow the (inter-)national call to develop strategies for healthy ageing, from which long-term scientifically-sound and practical recommendations for the ageing society can be developed.