Sarcopenia: The Pernicious Erosion of Genomic Vitality
Sarcopenia remains a relatively unknown word. Meaning poverty of flesh, long lingering public and professional ignorance would have us believe sarcopenia is a normal condition of aging. In fact, it occupies a major role in the pandemic of chronic/systemic degenerative diseases breaking the spirit and pocketbooks of individuals, families and the health care system today.
Researchers Evans and Rosenberg of Tufts University undertook groundbreaking studies in the 1980s aimed at determining if sarcopenia is, as long held, a normal condition of aging. It has been long held that as we age, we loose muscle. Losing muscle, we grow weaker; entering what Evans and Rosenberg called The Disability Zone. The Disability Zone doesn’t just suddenly happen: instead, one slowly makes headway toward entering the disability zone over a number of years of steady, cumulative erosive atrophy of muscle. Muscle wasting’s slow, pernicious progress amounts to slow erosion rather than a sudden shift. We note ourselves becoming slightly weaker. In the long term, grossly accumulated weakness accounts for lack of energy, propensity to become unsteady on our feet, even prone to falling.
Evans and Rosenberg found that sarcopenia is not a normal condition of aging: instead, muscle wasting is a primary condition of early, premature aging. Steady erosion of strength related muscle brings on faster aging than should be normal.
Exercise physiologist Frank Booth refers to what he’s branded the Sedentary Death Disease. Sedentary living sets the stage for muscle wasting based on a simple law of nature: use it or lose it.
Sarcopenia effects loss of strength muscle. Skeletal muscle has two components: strength muscle — also known as white fiber and type II muscle — and endurance muscle — known also as red fiber and type I muscle. Sarcopenia cannot be helped by endurance activities such as jogging, treadmills, steppers, or other ‘cardio’ or aerobic activities. By its nature, sarcopenia erodes our vital reserves expressed as strength. In that sense, sarcopenia implies weakening and weakness.
How does sarcopenia set in, and when? Assuming one has grown and developed to a fair measure of their genetic potential toward the late teens or early twenties, it is assumed a baseline condition of strength developed — on a relative scale rife with individual variations. Sarcopenia onset is driven by activity level. As persons join the work force, their lives becoming regimented with less time for recreation, one condition for sarcopenia onset occurs. Should the stresses of life wear at them, not only resulting in less to no time for activity, the debilitating effects of stress amplify conditions promoting sarcopenia — elevated cortisol levels destroy muscle tissue. Settling down is the general condition welcoming sarcopenia’s beginnings.
Assuming the average person settles down around age 25 with a greatly diminished activity level, conditions promoting sarcopenia come to life. Early sarcopenia can result in up to loss of half a pound of strength muscle per year up to around age 50. Assuming optimal muscle wasting, between hypothetical ages 25 to 50, your maximum loss of strength muscle can be 12.5 pounds. You may not notice that loss since your bodyweight can remain the same, drop slightly, or even grow greater. More about that comes below.
Around age 50 the rhythm picks up growing stronger up to age 70: in that period loss accelerates to a rate of up to one pound per year. Doing that math, between 50 and 70 optimal loss can result in loss of 20 pounds of strength muscle. Hence, between 25 and 70 one can lose 32.5 pounds of muscle. Just imagine what 32.5 pounds of muscle would look like in size at a butcher shop!
After 70 the rate of loss can accelerate to 2 pounds a year or another 20 pounds by 80, a cumulative loss of 52.5 pounds. Thereafter, assuming the poor soul has not expired, loss can accelerate to upwards of 4 pounds per annum!
Evans and Rosenberg’s work so far offers a gloomy forecast for transition from normal health into the disability zone of ever progressive degenerative disability finally taking one to mortality. Along the way of progressing disability one weakens, diseases come to live, and one loses their freedom by means of progressive steps mandating stages of receiving care giving and assisted living.
Evans & Rosenberg didn’t stop there: their good news is that sarcopenia can be prevented, can be arrested in its tracks, and can even be reversed. And the story doesn’t stop there.
One of their biggest revelations binds muscle wasting to debilitating outcomes known then as Metabolic Syndrome or Syndrome X. Those include:
- Obesity — today called Sarcopenic Obesity
- Type II diabetes
- Elevated blood lipids
- Arterial hardening
As muscle erosion occurs, your natural biochemistry is thrown off course, in turn systemically downgraded. Metabolic stimulation from activity downgrades healthy metabolic response. Homeostasis is replaced by catabolism: instead of a healthy balanced metabolism, a destructive course is entered into. You body simply isn’t working in terms of its genomic standard operations — you’ve entered into living contemptuous of millions of years of biological evolution.
Sarcopenia and degenerative disease represents New Disease. When Old Medicine meets New Disease, an incongruity results. Old Medicine triumphed in the treatment, cure, and eradication of infectious diseases. Sarcopenia is not infectious — it’s not carried to us, nor is there a pathogen responsible for it.
Old Medicine treats sarcopenia and degenerative conditions the best it knows how: it looks for biochemical conditions and presenting symptoms. It does not look for functional upstream distal causes and conditions. Old Medicine created myriad specializations as time went on, specializations aimed a gaining highly refined understanding of adverse conditions effecting specific organs and processes of our body.
New Diseases can be readily misinterpreted by Old Medicine. Let’s assume an individual in their 50s or 60s has their annual physical exam resulting in diagnoses of:
- Type II diabetes
- Elevated blood lipids
What’s a physician to do with so many conditions? They may recommend an exercise program and diet for obesity. All the other conditions will likely result in one of two courses of action: (a) prescription pharmaceuticals for each of them, or (b) referrals to various specialists for each of the conditions. Specialists, in turn, will likely prescribe pharmaceuticals independent of consultation with each other, heightening potential risk for adverse drug interactions.
What’s missing? Old Medicine does not diagnose or note sarcopenia. Most likely, any notation of muscle wasting is taken as a normal condition of aging. Sarcopenia, furthermore, is most highly evident with skinny persons. Mind you, obese persons can be just as sarcopenic and are often referred to as “skinny fat” simple due to the wall of obesity hiding underlying muscular wasting.
Old Medicine more often than not hasn’t been trained in nutrition and diet, so examination of eating behavior and dietary components is missed as well.
Taken together, the list of presenting symptoms is a natural outcome of years of inactivity resulting in years of muscular loss which systemically triggers erosion of other, supporting metabolic processes. Presenting symptoms listed are taken for granted as the diseases people develop as they age — of course, without any conceptual consideration, the standard view holds them out to be the same sort of ‘condition of aging’ that sarcopenia amounts.
Aging isn’t a disease — it’s a condition of life and its cause is having been born!
New Medicine takes a different tactic — to the extent there is a New Medicine. New Medicine, should there be one, begins with Health Education. Aside from diagnosis of overt presenting conditions, the richer set of presenting context of life must also be diagnosed for diet, activity, and stress adaptation. New Medicine’s repertoire of skillful interventions must include dietary and activity prescriptions. Consideration of Paleo as so eloquently stated in the Paleo 2.0 manifesto is a first step.
Appropriate activity is a realm fraught with dangers for the average person: devoid of substantive health education we’re left in the dark, hence gullible to detrimental reliance on unexamined common sense views masking commercial interests.
The challenge for preventing, arresting and reversing sarcopenia hinges on understanding of one’s condition today and appropriate means for improving. With the Paleo movement, one finds a great disparity between the anthropological record of activity levels and attempts at construction of a fictitious modern program of activity. Best case attempts would mimic both ancestral and contemporary hunter/gathers. Anthropological and archaeological records of the past are accountable in terms of ‘bones and stones’ upon which attempts to construct ancient dramatizations rest upon. With modern and contemporary hunter/gathers, rich reporting occurs yet must be taken in context of how eroded those native peoples’ cultures have been by foreign influence.
The archaeological and historical record, often far more recent than the Paleolithic period, reveals considerable data about our ancestors. Peter McAllister’s Manthropology demonstrates how we’ve become considerably shrunken versions of our forbearers — forebears well into the Neolithic period! We simply under-live our genomic plan so that any plan for regaining optimal individual health and fitness needs to take into consideration not a short term fix but a long term solution and subsequent maintenance.
A Paleo 2.0 approach to remediation and preventing sarcopenia should not assume the normal human condition of today is a healthy baseline: at best, it’s a starting point. Remediation for many can be looked at as a project that will occupy them not for days and months, but for years — indeed, an investment in the rest of their lives.
The fitness industry offers common sense solutions which don’t support healthy expression. Many gyms find it profitable to optimize through put traffic of members by promoting short workouts, and often only one or two workouts weekly. For a Paleo that would be a rest week! Sarcopenia effects strength muscle, and optimal activity supporting fullest genomic expression of strength muscle mandates a range of differing kinds of activity, some heavy, some moderate, some light, each with its own rhythm of when performed and resulting recuperation; and with that, a well developed program includes a mix of performance options to maximize varying metabolic processes development. Such training makes use of the various patterns of activity inherent in life, and does not reduce training to a commercial scheme marketed as ‘science.’
Many would dismiss training altogether, insisting saropenia is genetic, hence can’t be helped. That holds themselves out as victims with no recourse. Popular media and pharmaceutical companies profit from that abuse of genetics. Popular pharmaceutical commercials include lines such as “it runs in my family” and “just like my mother I have osteoporosis.” Degenerative disorders have grown exponentially since the end of World War II. Middle school children now exhibit type II diabetes and obesity since they’ve been deprived of regular physical education and subjected to grossly unhealthy foods. Estimates hold that by 2020 one in every two Americans will have type II diabetes. Cleaning up your diet and overcoming the sedentary death disease call upon innate, genomic capacities to restore natural health and vitality — that’s the real substance of a genetic argument. The genes aren’t promoting sickness — cavalier disregard of our genetic make up is making us sick and bankrupt.
Having read this far, you understand sarcopenia and associated degenerative disease are caused by ignoring your ancestral genetic needs: more important, you now know you have a choice for liberating yourself from untold misery others blindly accept as their lot in life. Be strong, be free, be exuberantly alive!
Copyrighted © 2011 by Ken O’Neill. Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited: all rights reserved by copyright holder.