A recent study from the University of Alberta suggests high muscle mass and healthy diets play key roles in fighting against cancer.
The study showed that patients with low muscle mass experience more complications, longer hospital stays, and lower survival rates.
This is because muscle is very important for movement and balance, for posture, strength, and power, but it’s also a reservoir of amino acids.
The team argues that nutrition interventions could improve cancer treatment, making a high-protein, high-nutrient diet a crucial tool in the fight against a life-threatening illness.
The leader of the study is nutrition expert Carla Prado.
Critics have long suggested the body mass index—a simple calculation of weight over height—glosses over important differences in body types.
For example, A sedentary wrestling fan might have a normal BMI, while Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson would likely qualify as obese.
Studies have reported an “obesity paradox” among patients with chronic diseases. Higher BMI patients often fared better than low BMI patients.
While researchers puzzled over why that could be, the researcher believes the answer actually lies beneath the surface. It’s the muscle, not the fat.
Previously, research has examined muscle mass and cancer outcomes in cancer patients with obesity.
In the study, the team believes body composition research has massive implications for the way chronic diseases are treated.
Chemotherapy, for example, is often administered based on body weight, leaving patients with obesity and low muscle mass at a higher risk of toxicity.
But nutrition may have the potential to transform care simply by focusing on maintaining and building muscle.
That lost muscle has many important roles beyond mobility, including regulating hormones, metabolic functions, and organ function.
In just three days in a hospital bed, an elderly patient can lose more than a kilogram of muscle.
Over a 10-day hospital stay, a healthy adult can lose 5% of their total muscle mass. Those numbers rise to 18% in an intensive care unit.
The team says deterioration makes it harder to fight illness. A 10% loss leads to impaired immunity and increased risk of infection.
Twenty percent means weakness and slowed healing; 30% leaves a patient too weak to sit. A loss of 40% is often fatal.
But there are other things to consider. With worse outcomes, additional complications and a longer hospital stay, ignoring muscle mass costs health systems more resources.
Patients end up with a poorer quality of life, unable to perform the most basic tasks like opening a bottle of water or combing their hair.
To avoid the problem, the researcher believes increasing protein and muscle-building nutrients could radically improve outcomes. Nutrition should be considered therapy.
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