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Sarcopenia: It's Not One of the Balkan States (and You Don't Want To Go There)



by Susan Fekety, RN, MSN, CNM



I had a delightful visit recently with an older woman who happens to be mother to one of my favorite lifestyle clients. (Oh, what an honor to have someone bring you a loved one to care for!) She has sarcopenia: low lean body mass, the common health problem you probably never heard of.

Picture this gal: five-four, slender, funny, cropped white hair – right out of an Eileen Fisher ad. Healthy lifestyle, including macrobiotics, Pilates, and yoga. Also – fatigue, osteoporosis, and heart disease, of the blocked major vessels variety. Her doctors told her she needn't worry about her weight – but they're wrong.

We did an electronic body composition analysis using my fancy-dancy machine. (It's the medical version of those body fat analyzers you see at the gym or in Target.) Guess what? Over 30% body fat on this gal! In women, healthy body fat is around 19-25%; in men, it's less. At under a hundred pounds, this gorgeous woman was actually quite obese. That's sarcopenia – her lean body mass had melted away. You'd have never guessed it just looking at her.

Your body is made up of water, lean mass (muscles, bones, organs) and fat. As you age, especially if you're sedentary and eat poorly, you'll lose lean mass because your body will cannibalize muscle to get what it needs. (Gross!) But your lean mass is your metabolically active tissue - - your battery pack, the stuff that keeps you from falling down, that lets you grab the bag of groceries or jump up out of the chair. Lose it, and you get tired, you fall, you have trouble doing things that used to be easy. In the elderly, sarcopenia is pretty common. Turns out it's pretty common in young people too.

Why care, if your weight is okay and you look good in jeans? Because fat is not an inert lump of yellow goo. It's a hormonal chatterbox, "talking" to the rest of your body in some fairly sinister ways, mostly with the chemical signals of inflammation – Public Enemy Number One health-wise. For this gal, the lost muscle mass left her with an abundant fat mass that's been talking dirty – all day, every day.

So, I don't want to alarm you but you should know that although you may be just right by scale weight, you may really be fat enough to have a pile of risk factors for the diseases of aging you don't want. Though people talk bla bla bla about "healthy weight," appearances can be very deceiving. Find out what your lean and fat percentages are, and stay away from Sarcopenia.




Article © Copyright 2008 by Susan Fekety. All rights reserved worldwide. Duplication or reprints only with express permission of the author or, for a nonprofit purpose, without consent so long as the author's name and contact information are included as follows: "Reproduced with permission from Susan Fekety," These articles are provided for informational purposes only. Their content is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own health care professional. You should not use the information contained herein for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem promptly contact your health care provider.




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