Involuntary age-related muscle loss affects 100% of the population, with declines at a rate of about 1% a year after age 70. If you don’t do something about it, your risk of falls increases. Your ability to recover from injuries or illness will be slower. Your energy and strength will decline. Your ability to carry groceries into the house, walk the dog or even get out of a chair without struggling, will suffer. Your independence will be in jeopardy.
One of the best defenses against age-related muscle loss is to build up muscle reserves. “We should all be using something to stem the problem of muscle loss, because once we notice it, it may be way too late,” comments Larry Kolb, president of TSI USA, LLC (TSI), a nutritional ingredient company that produces and markets a well-proven muscle health ingredient called HMB (Calcium β-Hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate).
A new year-long randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study indicates that the combination of HMB and Vitamin D3 improved muscle function in older adults, even without exercise. The study was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health and published in The Journals of Gerontology.
Why exercise and protein intake generally aren’t enough
But wait. If you’re eating the same amount of protein and exercising as much as always, you don’t need to worry about muscle loss, right? Not exactly. “As we age, we begin to lose our ability to respond to certain signals such as how our body responds to ingesting protein or to exercise. As a result, we need more protein or exercise to achieve the same muscle growth responses,” Kolb explains.
“Exercise has a multitude of benefits for older adults,” stresses Kolb. “This study indicates HMB supplementation may be a very valuable tool for people who can’t or won’t exercise. Especially if you’re frail, infirm or out of shape, for example, HMB plus Vitamin D3 might even help you get back to where you can start to exercise and improve your quality of life.”
Isn’t HMB for athletes?
HMB has long been popular among sport nutrition brands for its impressive strength and recovery benefits for competitive athletes. For more than 20 years, however, HMB has also been studied for its muscle health benefits in medical nutrition and healthy aging applications.
HMB has a unique mechanism for boosting muscle health in older adults as it stimulates the body’s ability to build muscle from protein, and it reduces muscle breakdown. “It is the most proven ingredient we know of that has this dual function,” Kolb comments.
Additionally, higher Vitamin D3 levels are associated with greater strength and superior muscle function, to further support muscle health in older adults. “With this study, we now understand HMB and Vitamin D3 can have a synergistic effect in older adults, superior to what either can do individually,” said principal investigator John Rathmacher, Ph.D.
HMB+D study details
A previous year-long, placebo-controlled study of HMB found that HMB increased lean body mass in adults over age 65 but didn’t appear to improve strength. Because 70% of those study participants had insufficient Vitamin D levels, researchers re-analyzed the details and found that only those who had sufficient Vitamin D3 levels saw an increase in strength with HMB.
In the recently published study, 117 healthy adults ages 60 and older were assigned to take HMB + Vitamin D3 or a placebo supplement. In each group, half of the subjects participated in a mild resistance training program, while the other half did not exercise. The exercise consisted of 60-minute supervised progressive resistance training sessions, three days a week. Researchers measured physical function, muscle strength and body composition at three-month intervals.
The results indicated that HMB’s long-term functional benefits are fully realized among older adults when there is sufficient Vitamin D3 present:
- Among non-exercisers, participants taking HMB+D experienced greater improvements in physical function and tended to have greater increases in strength than did participants taking the placebo supplement, and they sustained this improvement over one year.
- Exercise was not needed to realize the muscle health benefits of HMB+D. Combining HMB+D and moderate resistance training did not provide any further benefit over either exercise or HMB+D alone.
- HMB+D may also help people feel more energetic.
“The most exciting thing about this study is that with HMB+D, there was a significant improvement in muscle function in the non-exercise group specifically. That is very powerful given the percentage of our older adult population who are unable or unwilling to exercise,” concludes Rathmacher. “While the benefits of exercise are much broader than muscle mass or muscle strength, the improvement of physical function is potentially very powerful for the health of this population. I am unaware of any other nutrient capable of doing this.”
He adds, “HMB generally works best with higher intensity exercise than was used in this study. Now we know that it may also be an incredible alternative for the majority of people in this older age group who are unlikely to start and consistently follow a high-intensity or resistance training regimen.”