Amino acids for healthy aging

Amino acids are important for addressing loss of muscle mass due to aging

As we get older, we start to lose skeletal muscle mass. This natural process is called sarcopenia and it affects everyone. If nothing is done about it, sarcopenia can prevent people from performing everyday activities like going out, and greatly increase the risk of falls or broken bones. This can make it harder for people to lead independent lives. Addressing sarcopenia is important for preventing lower quality of life (QOL). The right exercise and consumption of enough animal-based proteins are needed to prevent and treat the condition. Doctors are looking closely at amino acids as a nutritional strategy. Recent studies have found a clear link between the consumption of amino acids and exercise with an increase in muscle mass and strength.

Exercise and good nutrition are essential for fighting sarcopenia. It is very important that people exercise safely and effectively, in a way that is appropriate for their strength and ability. For nutrition, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare and other experts recommend actively eating meals full of high-quality animal proteins, especially foods like meat, fish, eggs, and milk.

Amino acids are being closely studied as a nutritional strategy for sarcopenia. Amino acids are nutrients that make up the proteins in muscle. They include branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) that are especially plentiful in muscle. BCAAs help make muscle protein and prevent its breakdown. Amino acids that cannot be made by our bodies and must be taken in from food are called essential amino acids. More and more evidence suggests that consuming essential amino acids, including BCAAs, is effective in preventing sarcopenia.

A study was conducted on muscle gain in older adults. It showed that compared with consuming protein from whey (the liquid left over from making cheese and other dairy products), consuming a formula of nine essential amino acids with a high percentage of the BCAA leucine produced more muscle protein gain compared with a control group. In addition, older adults who regularly consumed this leucine-rich essential amino acid formula, when combined with light exercise, enjoyed increased muscle mass and strength and improved exercise function, including walking faster. Among BCAAs, leucine is particularly effective in promoting the making of muscle protein. This means that it is important to consume more leucine as we get older. We should actively and regularly consume high-quality foods rich in BCAAs, such as milk and other dairy products, meat, fish, and eggs. We should also efficiently take nutrients that are needed by the body, such as leucine.

Change in muscle mass, strength and walking speed among older adults from long-term consumption of a Leucine-rich essential amino acid formula

Borsheim et al., Clin. Nutr., 27, 189-195 (2008)

Amino acids help restore immune response

As we get older, our immune system also weakens and we are more likely to catch colds and other illnesses. Older people often do not get enough protection, even with flu vaccinations, because their body’s immune response is too weak. A study was conducted to investigate the effects of cystine and theanine on immune response among elderly residents of a nursing home who were given flu shots. The group that did not take cystine and theanine after being vaccinated showed almost no improvement in immune response, but the group that did take cystine and theanine showed a significantly improved immune response. These results indicate that weakened immune response due to aging can be restored by consuming amino acids.

Percentage of older people with antibody titers (40 times or higher) effective against influenza infection among older people with a lower nutritional status.

Miyagawa et al., Geriatr. Gerontol. lnt., 8, 243-250, 2008.