Our immune system is always at work, protecting against unwanted microbes or infections. And while our immune system is always operating, it is not usually top of mind unless one is sick or trying to avoid a virus. Following good-health guidelines – like eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly and getting adequate sleep – are natural ways to keep the immune system strong and healthy. But should we also be considering our muscle health when thinking about our immunity?
The Connection Between Muscles and the Immune System
Skeletal muscle accounts for about 40% of total body weight and contains at least 50% of all body proteins.1 Muscles are well-known for their role in movement, strength and energy. However, there is evidence suggesting a relationship between muscle and immune function as well.
Muscles produce and release compounds which play an important role in the proliferation, activation and distribution of some immune cells.2 And while additional research is needed, data suggests loss of muscle mass is associated with compromised immunity and infections.3,4 Research in older adults has shown increased markers of inflammation associated with low muscle mass and muscle function.5,6,7 Finally, muscle is as a major storage site for amino acids that are used by the body during a trauma or infection.8 Therefore, low muscle mass coupled with inadequate protein intake may affect the body’s response to an injury or infection.
Given the evidence linking muscle to the immune system, maintaining or improving muscle health should be a priority.3
Nutrition is fundamental for people to live well, particularly for older adults to maintain their strength and support their immune health, prevent disease and aid their illness recovery.
Yen Ling Low, Ph.D., Scientific & Medical Affairs, Abbott
How to Maintain Muscle Health
Safeguarding muscle mass can be done with a few simple strategies – mainly focusing on physical activity and proper nutrition. This is especially important as we age. Adults 40+ can lose up to 8% of their muscle mass per decade - a rate that can double after the age of 70.
The SHIELD (Strengthening Health In ELDerly through nutrition) study found high prevalence of low muscle mass among 4 in 5 older adults in Singapore at risk of malnutrition, which may impact overall health and immune function. Older adults who received individualized dietary counseling and consumed oral nutritional supplements (ONS) found significant improvement in nutritional status, physical function and health.
“Nutrition is fundamental for people to live well, particularly for older adults to maintain their strength and support their immune health, prevent disease and aid their illness recovery," said Yen Ling Low, PhD, divisional vice president, scientific and medical affairs at Abbott and co-author of the study.
"That’s why Abbott has been researching the impact of nutrition in adults for more than 45 years. The latest clinical research on aging confirms that with the right nutritional intervention and dietary guidance, older adults – even those at risk of malnutrition - can improve their nutritional status, mobility and strength, and help them lead fuller lives, into their golden years."
To preserve muscles:
Making an effort to maintain or improve muscle mass can have extensive benefits on health. Many may immediately think of the role muscle can have on our strength and energy – especially as we age, but research points to its positive impact on the immune system, as well.
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The Benefits of Protein for Older Adults in Preventing Falls and Fragility
If you're an older adult, the occasional fall may not seem that serious. However, you might be surprised to learn that falls are the leading cause of injury and injury-related death among older adults in the United States. Considering that more than one in four older Americans experience at least one fall every year, according to an Abbott study published in OBM Geriatrics, it's crucial to take steps to protect yourself as you age. While changes in vision, balance and reflexes can increase your odds of experiencing a fall, you might be able to reduce the risk of falling by harnessing the benefits of protein. Health experts are now finding that consuming adequate protein might help protect older adults from recurring falls, fragility and other effects of aging. Here's what you need to know about this research and the advantages that protein offers aging adults. What Are the Benefits of Protein? From infancy through advanced age, protein provides our bodies with the building blocks it needs to build and repair cells, tissues, bones and muscles. Protein also helps our bodies make antibodies to help fight infection. As we age, protein has another important job: preventing muscle loss. Starting around age 40, the body naturally starts to lose muscle, losing as much as 8% of its muscle mass each decade. Over the years, this rate of muscle decline progressively accelerates, and it might even double in some people after age 70. Getting enough protein from a balanced diet is one way to combat muscle wasting.