What Is Sacropenia?

What Is Sacropenia?

What Is Sacropenia?

From the time you are born and until the time you are 30-40, the muscles of your body begin to grow larger and stronger. However, things start to take a turn when at a certain point you reach the age of 30s, and you begin to lose the necessary muscle mass and even its function.

Well, this is all due to age-related sarcopenia or the so-called sarcopenia due to aging. Keep in mind that people that are not physically active would lose around 3% to 6% of the muscle mass each of the decades as and when they complete 30 years. Even if you do have an active lifestyle, you would be still losing some muscles.

Now there aren’t any tests or specific type of muscle mass that can diagnose sarcopenia. The loss of muscle matters as it leads to reducing strength as well as mobility. Surprisingly, sarcopenia occurs when you age around 75. However, there is a chance that it would speed up as early as you have reached the age of 65 or even the late 80s. The factors you need to keep in mind are frailty and the chances of any fall and fractures happening in old age.

Definition of Sarcopenia

As clearly stated above, when you reach the early age or mid-age of 30, the symptoms of losing muscle and strength become common but for some people, the loss of muscle becomes faster and that can be due to a serious condition called sarcopenia. And this is most common with becoming old. 

Keep in mind that sarcopenia is a serious condition. It can drastically affect the quality of life of a person. How? The following are the ways – 

  • Lowering the ability for doing simple tasks of daily life like getting out of the chair or walking up the stairs.
  • An increasing disability that causes the loss of independence and the requirement for long-term care.

Even sarcopenia can lead to other major health issues and complications like – 

  • Increase the requirement for and length of hospitalization.
  • Increase the risk of falls and fractures.
  • Increasing complication after surgery.
  • Raising the risk of death

Frankly, though sarcopenia is very much common, where around 10-30% of older adults can suffer from sarcopenia, still various individuals won’t get diagnosed and treated for that condition.

How Can One Identify Sarcopenia?

Around the mid-21st century, sarcopenia was an independent condition having an international classification of disease-ten code. However, things have changed. It is a major muscle disease and that is characterized by insufficiency and muscle failure.

With the inclusion of sarcopenia, by the WHO medical classification list, there has been huge growth in terms of the interest physicians and pharmaceutical and nutrition firms have in the diagnosis and development of the drugs and treatment interventions.

Categories of Sarcopenia

There are two major categories of sarcopenia. One is the primary and secondary. As we are aware sarcopenia is termed as either age-related or primary disease when there is no other specific evidence for its occurrence. Furthermore, it is secondary when casual factors like aging come into play.

Factors leading to secondary sarcopenia are physical inactivity due to limited mobility, disease-related bedrest, etc. They are other ones like sedentary lifestyle, poor nutrition, inadequate intake of proteins and energy, etc. You would be surprised to know that there are two major subcategories of sarcopenia, which are chronic and acute. Here this is termed as acute as it would last for around less than six months. Sometimes it would be associated with any illness and injury. The disease is chronic when it lasts longer than 6 months and is commonly related to the progressive condition.

Also, one can easily identify sarcopenia earlier by using the two fast-screening tools, the SARC-F questionnaire, and Ishii’s score. Some of the tools to measure sarcopenia are –

  • Muscle Strength – There are three major commonly used methods for measuring muscle strength related to sarcopenia. The most recommended and widespread test evaluates the quantitatively grip strength through the usage of the hand dynamometers. Also, gender is the cut-off point for the grip strength in sarcopenia.
  • Muscle Quantity and Quality – In case a low muscle strength has been identified among the patient, the confirmation of the diagnosis of the sarcopenia contains the evaluation of the quality of the muscle and even the quantity through many techniques like bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA), dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, magnetic resonance imaging, computed tomography, etc.
  • Physical Performance – For assessing sarcopenia severity, one must perform the measurement of the physical performance. Here it is based on the suitability and the ability for predicting adverse outcomes.

Awareness and Major Research

Many doctors and health experts have worked with the CDC (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention) for creating the ICD-10 code for sarcopenia. This would lead to the following effects-  

  • Make sarcopenia the reportable disease by the medical professionals.
  • Increase the diagnosis and the treatment of sarcopenia through the reimbursement of the screen time that medical professionals are eligible for. 
  • Received the method for collecting data present on sarcopenia.

Causes of Sarcopenia

Although many of the IOF (International Osteoporosis Foundation), the muscles mass would begin to decline as soon as you reach the age of 40. Now the loss of the muscles would progress in a rapid way as and when the person reached the age of 70. The exact rate of the decline would vary, an individual would lose around 3 to 8 percent of their muscle mass each decade.

Of course, the loss of muscle contains both reductions in terms of the number of the muscle fibres and even the decrease in their size. The combination of lesser and smaller muscle fibres would lead the muscle to atrophy and even shrink. Even when the person ages, certain changes would take place in the body and that plays a great role in the development of sarcopenia.

For example, as an individual gets older, the ability of the body to create the proteins that the muscles need to grow can decrease. When the protein production falls, individual muscle cells become smaller.

At times age-related hormonal changes can 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 can be the leading factor in the loss of muscle mass.

Major Risk Factors to Take Into Account

Even though aging is the major factor leading to sarcopenia, many other factors can contribute to the loss of muscle mass. These consist of-

  • Living Sedentary Lifestyle

Getting little or no kind of physical activity on the regular basis would place people at the risk of suffering from sarcopenia as and when they age.

  • Poor Nutrition

Sometimes poor dietary habits would lead to the development of sarcopenia. Of course, poor nutrition can happen at any age, still, it would affect how fast the muscle mass declines among older people. One thing you must keep in mind is that older adults eat very less and that leads to malnutrition. When consuming large amounts of acid-producing food, like processed foods and grains, even eating very few vegetables and fruits can instantly affect muscle mass.

What Are the Symptoms and Causes of Sarcopenia?

There are many symptoms, and these can include weakness and loss of stamina. Such aspects would interfere with physical activity. Reducing activity can further shrink muscle mass.

Although sarcopenia is commonly seen among people who are inactive, the fact that it also occurs in people who stay physically active suggests there are other factors in its development. Researchers believe these include:

  • Decrease in nerve cells responsible for sending signals from the brain to the muscles to start a movement.
  • Lower concentrations of some hormones, and include growth hormone, testosterone, and insulin-like growth factor.
  • A decrease in the ability to convert protein into energy.
  • Not getting enough calories or protein each day to sustain muscle mass.

A reduction in muscle mass would not seem like a huge concern for most people but, muscle loss can be significant enough to cause weakness, increase fall risk, and limit a person’s independence.

Sometimes sarcopenia may also cause a person to reduce their participation in physical activities. This decrease in activity causes even further muscle loss, which can adversely affect a person’s quality of life.

Diagnosis You Can Follow

Most doctors diagnose sarcopenia based on the symptoms the individual provides. In some cases, the physician would recommend the dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) and the walking speed test for making any kind of diagnosis. The DXA even uses low energy-based X-rays to measure skeletal mass.

Furthermore, the DXA can even measure bone density and tests for osteoporosis. That means when used in the combination along with the walking speed tests that can be helpful in diagnosing the sarcopenia. In certain instances, the doctor would do additional tests like measuring the handgrip strength.

The Kind of Treatment You Need to Follow

Currently, there are no proper medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat sarcopenia. There is certain research that is investigating the use of hormone therapy to increase lean muscle mass. Furthermore, researchers are studying the use of testosterone and growth hormones to help people maintain muscle mass as they age. Further studies are needed before hormone therapy is recommended to treat sarcopenia.

Can One Try Home Remedies?

Rather than the common medication and hormone therapy, the major management of sarcopenia is majorly focused on the lifestyle changes that prevent the loss of muscles.

Exercising Can Help to Certain Extend

As it concerns muscle mass, there is an old saying which clearly terms one to use it or lose it. And that it is fully true. When you work with muscles, it can help in the maintenance of muscle strength and mass. When the muscles are not used, they shrink.

Frankly, when it concerns resistance training or strength training, those would help to improve the muscle size, tone, strength, etc. Also, it can even strengthen the bones, tendons, ligaments, etc. These are great overall for the person’s health. As per the CDC, older adults need to take part in muscle-strengthening activities for a minimum of two days each week. Also, they need to exercise all the major muscle groups, and these include the arms, legs, chest, shoulder, etc.

In the case of strength training, it involves the usage of resistance that leads to muscle contraction. The contraction of muscles would lead to the building of the muscle size and even increase the strength. Here strength training can consist of using weight, exercise machines, resistance bands, etc. Even a person’s own body weight could be used as resistance. It can be beneficial to work with an exercise trainer to develop a strength training program that is effective and safe.

Older adults should consult a doctor before starting a new exercise program. A doctor can make sure there are no health problems present that would prevent someone from doing resistance training.

Going With Proper Nutrition

Correct nutrition is essential to treat sarcopenia. It may even prevent or delay the condition. Eating enough protein is an important dietary consideration in preventing sarcopenia. The IOF recommends that adults eat 1.0-1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily. Seafood, such as trout and salmon, can also be good sources of protein, while tofu, lentils, beans, and quinoa are popular protein sources for people who do not eat meat.

When you are choosing protein-rich foods to eat, reading the food labels like that can be helpful. Select sources of protein that do not have excessive amounts of sodium, fat, and cholesterol.


Most people are not aware that muscle loss happens due to the imbalance of two neurological signals that are necessary for muscle growth. This is the imbalance that leads to sarcopenia and unluckily, most people do suffer from it and can’t escape from that. Well, it is better to consult a doctor if you are suffering from this ailment.


Saravavan Nadarajan (Vanan)

Vanan, fitness expert and leader at EzFit Singapore, specializes in holistic training—home-based, boot camps, and corporate fitness—with over a decade of industry experience.

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