‘Sarcopenia is the new osteoporosis’: Abbott continues to explore solutions to counter muscle loss

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock / lisafx
© iStock / lisafx

Related tags Nutrition

Awareness and concern around age-related muscle loss is rapidly increasing, but many older consumers are in need of better education around what their protein needs are, and how best to get there, says Abbott.

“Muscle loss is the aging factor that is rarely discussed,” ​Suzette Pereira, PhD, research scientist and expert in muscle health at Abbott, told FoodNavigator-USA. “Starting at age 40, adults can lose up to 8% of their muscle mass each decade. After 70, that rate almost doubles to up to 15%.

“Sarcopenia, the medical term for age-related muscle loss, is the new osteoporosis,” ​she added.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognized sarcopenia as a distinct and reportable medical condition in 2016​, leading to greater attention from healthcare professionals. The condition is reported to affect about 45% of older adults in the US, and can result in losses in strength, energy and mobility, as well as an increased risk of falls, illness and poor health. 

“Based on the scientific evidence to-date, experts from around the world have put forth recommendations on how to address this age-related muscle loss through optimized nutrition and exercise,” ​said Dr Pereira. “The good news is that unlike osteoporosis, muscle loss is reversible with the right nutrition, including protein, and exercise.”

Ingredient innovation

Ensure Enlive 2

Abbott produces the Ensure brand of products, positioned for older consumers. The first Ensure product launched in 1973, and the company continues to explore how nutrition benefits in improving health, said Dr Pereira.

“While we know protein will always play a critical role in overall health and particularly muscle health, Abbott and third party partners have research to show other nutrients or ingredients may be beneficial too,”​ she said. “For example supplementation with HMB ​[the leucine metabolite beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate], an ingredient that is naturally produced in small amounts in the body, has been shown to help prevent muscle loss.”​ 

Abbott includes HMB in its Ensure Enlive product​, which is called the “most scientifically-advanced product in the US Ensure lineup”​. 

The product is formulated with 20 grams of protein and HMB to help rebuild muscle; plant-based omega-3 ALA; three grams of prebiotic fiber to support the digestive health; 120% of the daily value of Vitamin D and 50% of the daily value of calcium to support strong bones; and antioxidants like vitamins C, E and selenium for immune function.

The product is supported by findings from the NOURISH clinical study, published earlier this year in Clinical Nutrition​ (Vol. 35, pp. 18–26).

The company has also looked at the benefits of green tea extract on muscle health, said Dr Pereira. “One preclinical study that Abbott supported found green tea extract can preserve muscle mass and function in animals undergoing age-related muscle loss,”​ she said.


Currently, the daily recommended amount of protein is 0.8g per every kg of body weight, which works out at about 53 grams for a 150 lb adult. However, stakeholders have previously stated that this is nowhere near enough for older adults. Indeed, Dr Pereira notes that research shows that older adults may need to consume double the amount of recommended protein.

“While we often know the types of food that are good, including the importance of protein, not as many know how much of each they should be eating,” ​she added. “In a 2016 AARP-Abbott survey, 62% of adults believed they get enough protein, but only 17% of people knew the actual amount. When it came to a person’s muscle health, 73% of people surveyed knew that adults naturally lose muscle with age, and 28% said they had already noticed some loss.”

Dr Pereira added that Abbott scientists recently analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and found that roughly 40% of over 50s are still not getting the daily recommended amount of protein they need.

“Because protein is a critical component in helping rebuild muscle, which impacts your mobility, balance and posture as well as overall strength and energy, adults should make sure they are getting the right amount and right kinds of protein,” ​she said.

Muscle loss can accelerate with illness or injury, particularly if someone is on bed rest. Research has shown that in older adults, three days of bed rest can cause up to 10% of total leg muscle loss.

Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for Protein: 

Women ages 19 to 70+       46 grams per day

Men ages 19 to 70+            56 grams per day

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