Proceedings of the Nutrition Society

Conference on ‘Malnutrition matters’

Muscle wasting with age: a new challenge in nutritional care; part 2 – management

Nutrition and sarcopenia: evidence for an interaction

The Annual Meeting of BAPEN with the Nutrition Society, Harrogate International Centre, Harrogate. 29–30 November 2011.

D. Joe Millward 

Department of Nutrition and Metabolism, Institute of Biosciences and Medicine, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Surrey, Guildford GU2 7XH, UK


Nutritional interventions that might influence sarcopenia, as indicated by literature reporting on sarcopenia per se as well as dynapenia and frailty, are reviewed in relation to potential physiological aetiological factors, i.e. inactivity, anabolic resistance, inflammation, acidosis and vitamin D deficiency. As sarcopenia occurs in physically active and presumably well-nourished populations, it is argued that a simple nutritional aetiology is unlikely and unequivocal evidence for any nutritional influence is extremely limited. Dietary protein is probably the most widely researched nutrient but only for frailty is there one study showing evidence of an aetiological influence and most intervention studies with protein or amino acids have proved ineffective with only a very few exceptions. Fish oil has been shown to attenuate anabolic resistance of muscle protein synthesis in one study. There is limited evidence for a protective influence of antioxidants and inducers of phase 2 proteins on sarcopenia, dynapenia and anabolic resistance in human and animal studies. Also fruit and vegetables may protect against acidosis-induced sarcopenia through their provision of dietary potassium. While severe vitamin D deficiency is associated with dynapenia and sarcopenia, the evidence for a beneficial influence of increasing vitamin D status above the severe deficiency level is limited and controversial, especially in men. On this basis there is insufficient evidence for any more specific nutritional advice than that contained in the general healthy lifestyle–healthy diet message: i.e. avoiding inactivity and low intakes of food energy and nutrients and maintain an active lifestyle with a diet providing a rich supply of fruit and vegetables and frequent oily fish.

(Online publication March 19 2012)

Key Words:

  • Aging;
  • Dynapenia;
  • Inactivity;
  • Anabolic resistance;
  • Diet


Corresponding author: Professor D. Joe Millward, email: