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Sarcopenia and Tea Catechins

By Prof. Gene Bruno, MS, MHS, RH(AHG)
Huntington College of Health Sciences

Sarcopenia, or the decline of skeletal muscle tissue and loss of muscle function or strength with age, is one of the most important causes of functional decline and loss of independence in older adults. Its cause is widely regarded as multifactorial, with neurological decline, hormonal changes, inflammatory pathway activation, declines in activity, chronic illness, fatty infiltration and poor nutrition, all shown to be contributing factors. Recent molecular findings related to apoptosis, mitochondrial decline, and the angiotensin system in skeletal muscle have highlighted biological mechanisms that may be contributory.1

Treatment of Sarcopenia
Results of clinical intervention studies in even the oldest and frailest nursing home residents have demonstrated significant functional improvement in sarcopenia through a combination of nutrition and resistance exercise.2 Clinical studies have also shown improvement along with significant increases in muscle protein synthesis in older adults who receive physical activity and nutrition.3 In addition, catechins from tea may help.

Treatment With Catechins and Exercise
To investigate the effects of exercise and/or tea catechin supplementation on muscle mass, strength and walking ability in elderly subjects with sarcopenia, a study4 was conducted in which a total of 128 sarcopenic women aged over 75 years were randomly assigned into four groups: exercise and tea catechin (350 mL tea + 540 mg catechin) supplementation (n = 32), exercise (n = 32), tea catechin supplementation (n = 32) or health education (n = 32). The exercise group attended a 60-min comprehensive training program twice a week and the tea catechin supplementation group ingested 350 mL of a tea beverage fortified with catechin daily for three months. Body composition was determined by bioelectrical impedance analysis. Interview data and functional fitness measurements, such as muscle strength, balance and walking ability, were collected at baseline and after the three-month intervention. Results showed that there were significant group × time interactions observed in timed up & go (P < 0.001), usual walking speed (P = 0.007) and maximum walking speed (P < 0.001). The exercise + catechin group showed a significant effect for changes in the combined variables of leg muscle mass and usual walking speed compared with the health education group. In conclusion, the combination of exercise and tea catechin supplementation had a beneficial effect on physical function measured by walking ability and muscle mass.

Given the easy access to tea/green tea products standardized for polyphenol catechin content (e.g. EGCG, etc.), it seems that supplementation with catechins may be a viable addition to a comprehensive program (which includes strength training and nutrition) for patients with sarcopenia.

1. Fialston JD. Sarcopenia in older adults. Curr Opin Rheumatol. 2012 Nov; 24(6): 623–627.
2. Fiatarone MA, O’Neill EF, Ryan ND, et al. Exercise training and nutritional supplementation for physical frailty in very elderly people. N Engl J Med. 1994;330:1769–1775.
3. Timmerman KL, Dhanani S, Glynn EL, et al. A moderate acute increase in physical activity enhances nutritive flow and the muscle protein anabolic response to mixed nutrient intake in older adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;95:1403–1412.
4. Kim H, Suzuki T, Saito K, Yoshida H, Kojima N, Kim M, Sudo M, Yamashiro Y, Tokimitsu I. Effects of exercise and tea catechins on muscle mass, strength and walking ability in community-dwelling elderly Japanese sarcopenic women: a randomized controlled trial. Geriatr Gerontol Int. 2013 Apr;13(2):458-65.

Professor Gene Bruno, MS, MHS, the Provost for Huntington College of Health Sciences, is a nutritionist, herbalist, writer and educator. For more than 37 years he has educated and trained natural product retailers and health care professionals, has researched and formulated natural products for dozens of dietary supplement companies, and has written articles on nutrition, herbal medicine, nutraceuticals and integrative health issues for trade, consumer magazines and peer-reviewed publications. He can be reached at gbruno@hchs.edu.