Whilst many believe that ‘muscle thinning’ is a natural part of ageing, with a progressive loss of muscle occurring from age 40, 20 percent loss by age 60 and 50% muscle loss by age 75, but the reality is that younger Australians are losing their muscles because protein starved bodies are literally eating themselves from the inside.
To think that Australian bodies are protein starved seems ludicrous given the abundance of beef, lamb and chicken on offer in every supermarket, yet most people are not consuming the amount of protein they require to stop the body literally eating its own muscle mass to survive and, as a leading nutritionist, physiotherapist and author, I am keen to highlight the dangers of this silent epidemic.
Our bodies turnover 300mg of protein each day to provide amino acids for brain function, happy brain chemicals, good immune health, rebuilding bone, muscle and ligaments, as well as making enzymes for digestion, and to transport essential nutrients in the blood. There is a continuous exchange between the body, muscle and bone and protein is at the heart of this exchange. If we don’t eat and absorb enough protein the net result is loss of muscle bulk to make up the deficit.
Sadly with our high carb diet, protein has become a casualty and as a nation we are getting fatter and sicker.
Symptoms of the body eating itself due to inadequate protein intake include:
- Muscle weakness, aches and pains
- Lack lustre energy levels
- Susceptibility to colds and flu
- Brain fog
Usually when people experience these symptoms, they go to the doctor for anti-depressants to help them feel better – medication that tries to maintain the last of the ‘happy’ brain chemicals, but they don’t work if there’s limited protein to make that ‘happy’ brain chemical in the first place! No wonder they don’t feel any better.
To really feel better we need to eat and absorb a minimum of 55 grams of protein for women and 80-90 grams for men to balance the daily turnover. When you consider a piece of steak the size of your palm only contains 20 grams of protein, you can see how so many may be lacking.
According to a recent report in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology May 2013, ant-acid medications used to treat reflux are over prescribed and long term use inhibits absorption of protein, as well as calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron and vitamin B12.
These drugs inhibit production of stomach acid essential for primary digestion and have been associated with an increased risk of pneumonia, acute kidney infections, osteoporosis and bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine, and most would not realise low vitamin B 12 is associated with brain shrinkage!
Adding to the dilemma, the average western diet contains a much higher proportion of carbohydrates than protein. A high carb diet inhibits production of the hormone that stimulates stomach acid needed to absorb protein.
Vegetarians need to eat a range of protein sources to provide a full complement of amino acids for brain, immune, bone health and muscle strength. It’s not just about avoiding animal protein, many people have presented with low energy, brain fog and depression after adopting a vegetarian diet without researching how to replace proteins adequately.
The good news is a loss of muscle bulk and strength is reversible, and it’s easy to stop the body eating itself. Understanding and improving protein content in the diet and adding digestive support can slow muscle wasting and often rebuild muscle lost. I have put together an easy to follow Protein Scale that’s available free from my website so that Australians can learn more about how to boost their protein intake easily, and start feeling better as a result.
The improvement in how a person feels can happen as quickly as a few days when they start eating the right amount of protein – and why wouldn’t’ they feel better – their body has stopped eating itself!
Do you suffer from muscle loss? What do you do to gain it back? Tell us your stories below.