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Whats is Muscle Atrophy?

Posted on 14 November 2019

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Muscle atrophy is defined as a loss of muscle tissue. It can be caused by:

  • Lack of physical exercise
  • Age
  • Medical conditions (ALS, MS, arthritis, etc.)
Image credit: OpenStax, 2016.

Why does Muscle Atrophy occur?
Muscles are by far the largest protein reservoir in the body. They serve as a source of amino acids that is utilised in energy production and other catabolic processes. During muscle atrophy, proteolytic systems (systems that breakdown protein) are activated and contractile proteins and organelles are removed, resulting in the shrinkage of muscle fibers, and thus a reduction in muscle mass.

As a person gets older, their body produces fewer proteins that promote muscle growth. This reduction of available protein causes the muscle cells to shrink, resulting in a condition called sarcopenia.


According to a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) report, sarcopenia affects up to a third of people ages 60 and above.

In addition to reduced muscle mass, sarcopenia can cause the following symptoms:

  • weakness or frailty
  • poor balance
  • difficulty moving
  • lower endurance

A loss of muscle mass may be an inevitable result of the natural aging process. However, it can increase the risk of injuries and negatively impact a person’s overall quality of life.

However, studies have shown that by increasing the daily intake of protein up to 1.2-1.5 gram per kilogram of body weight can reduce the risk of sarcopenia by up to 40%.

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    1. Bonaldo P, Sandri M. Cellular and molecular mechanisms of muscle atrophy. Dis Model Mech. 2013;6(1):25–39. doi:10.1242/dmm.010389
    3. Robert R. Wolfe, Sharon L. Miller et al. Optimal protein intake in the elderly. Clinical Nutrition, 27, 5, 10 2008. DOI: 10.1016/j.clnu.2008.06.008
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