Supplements save muscles during bed rest

The loss of muscle strength is a problem faced by anyone placed in an environment that makes the exercise and physical activity involved in normal day-to-day life impossible — a patient confined to a hospital bed, for example, or an astronaut experiencing weightlessness for weeks at a time. Now, scientists have found a way to fight this muscle-wasting process with nutritional supplements, producing dramatic results in subjects participating in a 28-day bed-rest study.

From University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston :

Supplements save muscles during bed rest

The loss of muscle strength is a problem faced by anyone placed in an environment that makes the exercise and physical activity involved in normal day-to-day life impossible — a patient confined to a hospital bed, for example, or an astronaut experiencing weightlessness for weeks at a time. Now, University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB) scientists have found a way to fight this muscle-wasting process with nutritional supplements, producing dramatic results in subjects participating in a 28-day bed-rest study.

A paper published in the September issue of The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism details the experiment, in which thirteen healthy male volunteers were confined to beds in the university’s General Clinical Research Center. Seven volunteers received drinks containing essential amino acids and carbohydrates three times each day, while six others were given a placebo with no nutritional value. Using data produced by state-of-the-art real-time muscle-protein synthesis measurements, biopsies, magnetic resonance and X-ray imaging, and strength tests, the researchers determined that the subjects given supplements retained all of their original leg muscle mass while the members of the placebo group lost about a pound of leg muscle on average. Those given the supplements also lost only about half as much leg strength as those given the placebo.

”We thought it was the most astounding thing that even though our subjects did no exercise, they were able to maintain muscle mass,” said UTMB assistant professor Douglas Paddon-Jones, lead author on the paper. Paddon-Jones and his co-authors, Melinda Sheffield-Moore, Randall J. Urban, Arthur P. Sanford, Asle Aarland, Robert R. Wolfe and Arny A. Ferrando, represent UTMB’s departments of surgery, anesthesiology, and internal medicine and the Galveston Shriners’ Hospital for Children.

A similar supplement regime could reduce muscle loss in astronauts on long-duration space flights (the study was partially funded by NASA), trauma victims (severe trauma diminishes the body’s ability to make new muscle) and–in particular–hospitalized elderly people. ”The elderly have less muscle to spare than the rest of us,” Paddon-Jones said. ”When they get sick or injured and wind up in a hospital bed for a prolonged period, many of them lose so much muscle mass and strength that they don’t get back up. For a lot of people, this supplement could make a real difference.”

While the subjects in this study were healthy men between the ages of 26 and 46, the UTMB researchers plan further investigations to determine whether nutritional supplements — alone and in combination with resistance or walking exercise– can indeed significantly reduce muscle loss in elderly men and women during prolonged bed rest.


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