Possible Pharma Cure for Sarcopenia

muscle loss Possible Pharma Cure for Sarcopenia

Once again, the laboratories of Big Pharma have found something new, and it might even one day serve to help reverse the loss of muscle-tone (and strength) that comes “naturally” with the process of aging.

This “ailment” even has a name: sarcopenia (from the Greek, meaning poverty of flesh). Thanks to research by doctors at Columbia University Medical Center, the cause of this condition has been traced. The study, performed on mice, showed that sarcopenia reportedly occurs “when calcium leaks from a group of proteins within muscle cells, the ryanodine receptor channel complex. These leaks then trigger a chain of events that ultimately limits the ability of muscle fibers to contract.”

Another source explains it this way: Muscle cells use calcium to contract, and each cell has a little “gas tank” of calcium within it. The ryanodine receptor acts like a fuel pump and releases calcium into the cell, where it’s used to pull muscle fibers together. When the brain tells the muscle to relax, the receptor pumps calcium back into the tank, and the fibers separate. “As we age, the mechanism becomes damaged from stress and allows an unusual amount of calcium to leak out of the cell. Think of it in terms of a rusty old gas tank developing a small leak. Eventually enough calcium (gasoline) leaks out that the muscle (car) can’t function properly.  Basically, the muscle runs out of gas and over time, withers away.”

Study leader Andrew R. Marks, M.D., chairman and professor of physiology and cellular biophysics, is also Clyde and Helen Wu Professor of Medicine, and director of the Wu Center for Molecular Cardiology at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC). Dr. Marks had apparently been studying ways to alleviate (or even reverse) the debilitating effects of muscular dystrophy, which is closely related to this ryanodine receptor leakage.  Since this disease has some commonalities with sarcopenia,  he suspected this receptor issue might also be involved in it. “This is a completely new concept,” Marks is quoted as saying. “As we age, we essentially develop an acquired form of muscular dystrophy.”

The study also points to a possible therapy for sarcopenia: an experimental drug (developed by pharmaceutical startup ARMGO Pharma) called S107, which acts by stabilizing calstabin1, a protein that binds to the ryanodine receptors to prevent this calcium leakage. In the experimental study, Marks reportedly treated mice 24 months old (the equivalent of 70 in human-years). The mice, which were becoming weak and sedentary, could spend 50 percent more time on the exercise wheel than before. The study was reported in the online edition of Cell Metabolism. (ANI)

When asked whether early use of this drug (as a preventive beginning at age 50) might result in the prevention of age-related muscle loss, Dr. Marks called it “very possible.” S107 is currently in Phase II trials for yet another purpose, treatment of heart failure. He hopes to begin Phase II trials among people of advanced age for muscle-weakness/loss within a year.

Treatments for Sarcopenia

The Fox News story presents this situation as pretty much a given with growing older: “As we age, our muscles become weaker. It starts at around age 40 and progresses until 75, when muscle strength pretty much falls off a cliff.”

The actuality is, much of the effects of sarcopenia can be combated, with varying effect, with a combination of exercise and dietary choices (along with a few vitamins, hormones and other supplements to make the natural processes work better).

For example, an article at the Longevity and Anti-aging Secrets Web site begins by acknowledging the “common sense” allopathic claim that “As we age, the natural tendency even with proper nutrition and exercise is to lose muscle over time.” It then follows with a more proactive view: if this were not happening, our lifespans could expand almost indefinitely, and so “maintaining homeostasis is literally a matter of life and death.” It then declares sarcopenia to be “the number one enemy that threatens your antiaging and longevity efforts.” It cites the advance of everything from osteoporosis to problems with managing blood sugar, along with general loss of mobility and strength to do everyday tasks, as the primary negative effects of this ‘disease.’

The site then lists several things you can do to forestall, and even perhaps reverse, the onset of sarcopenia: eating, exercise, and maintaining sufficiently high hormone levels — all of which are interrelated.  (Also advised is a visit to an antiaging doctor, to help “assess your present hormonal status and recommend strategies to optimize your levels safely and effectively,” before embarking on any radical dietary changes.)

Therapies like biosignature modulation and bioidentical hormone therapy can also be used, together with proper exercise and eating (making sure of sufficient proteins, good fats and quality sources of carbohydrates). Nutritional supplements (vitamin-d, acetyl-l-carnitine, the amino acid glutamine, fish oil, creatine, etc.) can also have positive benefits, as can protein supplements. The primary thing is eating the right way, and exercising properly (especially with strength-training).

The article cites another study, done only a year ago at Washington University, finding that omega-3 fish oil may help reduce this age-related muscle loss. The dose used in the study was a mere four grams of fish oil per day (the FDA-approved level for lowering triglyceride levels in heart patients). The group getting the omega-3 supplement reportedly had twice as much muscle building activity as the group receiving a placebo.

Another possible sarcopenia remedy was noted in Natural News about two months ago: it may be that simply eating more apple-peels may help to keep your muscles in shape.  Apparently, there’s a natural compound in apple peels could be the key to preventing this muscle wasting. Additionally, it can reduce body fat and lower your cholesterol levels. The article cites a study of muscle atrophy, led by Christopher Adams, M.D., Ph.D., a University of Iowa (UI) endocrinologist.  After making the usual disclaimers about there being “no medicine for that,” Dr. Adams goes on to note that one of the chemicals that seemed to have positive effect on muscle-loss was ursolic acid, which is “particularly concentrated in apple peels.”

The researchers reportedly fed mice ursolic acid and found the apple compound protected them from muscle atrophy. Furthermore, healthy mice that ate ursolic acid tended to develop larger, stronger muscles than mice that didn’t receive the substance. It also increased muscle weight without adding to body mass; in fact, it was found to reduce body fat in the mice who ingested it.

Back in the allopathic arena, when asked for his take on these more natural methods for staving off the ravages of sarcopenia, Dr. Marks readily admitted that they do build muscle mass. However, he said, they don’t necessarily “improve muscle function the way this drug does.” (Full disclosure: Dr. Marks is a founder of ARMGO Pharma.)

To the mainstream media, of course, these are all nothing but delaying actions: As the Fox News story put it, “Doctors recommend exercise to counter the loss, but it inevitably progresses. Some people have tried hormone supplements—testosterone, human growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor-1—to hold off Mother Nature. But the long-term safety of those therapies is in question.”

Seems like fish oil, apple-peels, and proper eating and exercise might be at least a little safer than Pharma’s latest concoctions.

- Steve Trinward, Wellness Correspondent

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