The loss of muscle mass and fitness in old age may be reversible by providing the body with a key molecule it needs to rebuild blood vessels, scientists have found.
The arteries and capillaries which transport oxygen and nutrients around the body are not replaced as quickly when we’re older and this leads muscles to tire more quickly. Eventually they start to atrophy from under use.
But new research showed this process was “surprisingly easy to reverse” in elderly mice by supplementing a key ingredient which helps maintain and rebuild the inner lining of blood vessels.
It resulted in a new tangle of blood-carrying capillaries which reversed muscle loss and saw the endurance of the creatures improve by as much as 80 per cent.
Researchers from Australian and US universities, including Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) were part of the team that conducted the study.
A treatment to restore fitness and combat frailty in old age would be a major step towards living longer, healthier lives as it would mean older people could stay active and independent and reduce the risk of them ending up in hospital.
While there’s no guarantee the same effect would occur in humans, the findings were so impressive that the group have already begun clinical trials looking at whether the results can be replicated.
“We’ll have to see if this plays out in people, but you may actually be able to rescue muscle mass in an aging population by this kind of intervention,” said one of the study’s senior authors, Leonard Guarente a Professor of Biology at MIT.
“There’s a lot of crosstalk between muscle and bone, so losing muscle mass ultimately can lead to loss of bone, osteoporosis, and frailty, which is a major problem in aging.”