The hidden danger of sarcopenic obesity: When obesity masks muscle loss

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Unraveling Sarcopenic Obesity

Sarcopenic obesity, a condition characterized by muscle loss underneath layers of fat, particularly affects obese individuals.

This issue, previously overlooked, has been brought to light by Prof. Dr. Med. Stephan Bischoff from the University of Hohenheim, Stuttgart, and an international team of experts.

Their recent findings, published in Clinical Nutrition and Obesity Facts, have set a basis for diagnosing this condition. The next step is to develop effective treatments.

Not Just an Old Age Problem

Muscle atrophy, or muscle wasting, has traditionally been linked with older age, chronic illnesses like cancer, heart failure or diabetes, or long periods of immobility, like bed rest or wearing a cast.

But new insights reveal that young people who are obese can also experience muscle loss, according to Bischoff.

As obesity progresses, muscles initially grow to compensate for weight gain. However, without enough exercise, muscle mass hits a tipping point and starts to decline.

The Hidden Risk and Its Consequences

In people who are severely or morbidly obese, the fat layer masks the dangerous loss of muscle. This hidden muscle loss can lead to serious health problems.

“Patients with muscle atrophy are more prone to disease and have a reduced life expectancy,” warns Bischoff.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought this issue into sharp focus, as obese individuals with muscle loss in their respiratory muscles experienced more severe illness due to decreased respiratory capacity.

A Rising Concern

In Germany, about half the population is overweight, and a quarter is considered so overweight that it falls under the medical condition of obesity.

The link between obesity and muscle atrophy first became apparent through a series of isolated observations.

To investigate further, two professional societies, the European Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism (ESPEN) and the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO), assembled an expert panel.

Diagnosing Sarcopenic Obesity

The experts recommend a mix of methods to diagnose “sarcopenic obesity,” including determining the proportions of fat and muscle mass in the body and measuring muscle function.

Techniques like bio-impedance analysis, which measures electrical resistance in the body, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be used. The final diagnosis considers factors such as age, gender, and even ethnicity.

Potential Therapies: High-Protein Diet and Strength Training

Research into treating sarcopenic obesity is ongoing. Still, early findings suggest weight reduction programs, strength training, and a high-protein diet could help maintain or rebuild muscle mass during weight loss.

For those who’ve undergone surgery to reduce stomach size or shorten the intestine, more intensive follow-up care is required.

Consuming enough protein can be challenging for these patients, and they often need more active assistance with exercise training.

In conclusion, the discovery of sarcopenic obesity is a crucial step towards addressing the health risks associated with obesity that were previously hidden.

The development of effective therapies is the next important step in this journey.

If you care about weight management, please read studies about diets that could boost your gut health and weight loss, and 10 small changes you can make today to prevent weight gain.

For more information about weight loss, please see recent studies that Mediterranean diet can reduce belly fat much better, and Keto diet could help control body weight and blood sugar in diabetes.

The study was published in Clinical Nutrition.

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