Sarcopenia: Causes, symptoms, and management

Sarcopenia is the loss of muscle mass due to the natural aging process.

This decrease in muscle leads to a reduction in a person's strength. As a result, their balance and gait are also affected.

Sarcopenia can have an impact on a person's ability to perform everyday activities, such as climbing stairs, lifting objects, and walking.

Causes and risk factors

According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF), muscle mass starts to decline around the age of 40. The loss of muscle tissue may progress more rapidly when a person reaches their 60s and 70s.

Although the exact rate of decline varies, a person may lose 3 to 8 percent of muscle mass per decade.

The loss of muscle mass involves both a reduction in the number of muscle fibers and a decrease in their size. The combination of fewer and smaller muscle fibers causes the muscles to atrophy or shrink.

As a person ages, certain changes take place in the body that play a role in the development of sarcopenia.

For example, as a person gets older, their body's ability to produce the proteins that the muscles need to grow decreases. When protein production falls, individual muscle cells get smaller.

Age-related hormonal changes may also lead to a decrease in muscle mass. Typically, levels of testosterone and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) affect muscle growth and muscle mass.

The decline in hormone levels may be a contributing factor to the loss of muscle mass.

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