Score another point for caffeine? Perhaps. That most quotidian of wonder drugs can boost power to elderly muscles, a new study shows, making it potentially helpful in slowing age-related muscle deterioration.
As bodies age, muscles become weaker — a phenomenon known as sarcopenia — raising the risk of falls and injuries. But caffeine has been shown to help muscles work harder, which in turn helps maintain and even strengthen muscles. Perhaps caffeine, then, could make ailing older muscles exert more force and thus help keep the muscles stronger longer.
For research being presented Saturday at the Society for Experimental Biology meeting in Salzburg, Austria, sports scientists took two different types of mouse muscle — a leg muscle called extensor digitorum longus, as well as diaphragm muscle — and tested how they performed when dosed with 70 micromolars of caffeine – equivalent to "a couple of espressos," said first author Jason Tallis, a muscle physiologist at Coventry University in England. They conducted their tests on mice at ages 3 weeks, 10 weeks, 30 weeks and 50 weeks.
The 10-week and 30-week-old muscles — roughly analogous to young adulthood and middle age — benefited the most: They improved up to 5% for the leg muscle and 6% for the diaphragm. The very old mice saw less benefit, with a boost of up to 3% and 2% respectively, and the very young mice saw a limited 1% and 2% improvement.
So caffeine’s no miracle worker to pump up those aging guns — in fact, it’s relatively less effective for elderly rodents than it is for healthy adult animals. And of course, the study tested mice, not human tissue. This effect would probably be of little use to an older person who has limited movement, anyway. Such purposeful caffeine intake would likely be most effective when coupled with rehabilitation programs, or at least with a dedicated exercise regimen.
But, Tallis pointed out, the study only looked at caffeine's isolated effects on muscle. Since caffeine cues up the nervous system, which can tell muscles what to do, that effect could be amplified in a live animal (or human).
"Hopefully this will encourage people to do those human studies," Tallis added.
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