One of the few benefits of aging is that we often begin to drop weight the older we get. The problem is that we usually drop muscle weight rather than fat. This makes us weaker and more likely to fall. It also weakens our bones and makes getting around harder. Wouldn’t it be great if we could drop the weight without losing muscle strength? Well, a relatively unknown nutrient may help us do just that.
The nutrient is the amino acid leucine. While leucine isn’t well known, it is pretty common. You can find this natural substance in many foods, including lentils, peanuts, almonds, eggs and flax seeds. It’s also in many dietary supplements. And you’ll even find it in some energy bars.
Many food manufacturers include it in their energy bars because it helps speed up your metabolism and burn fat.
But a recent study of extreme mountain climbers found that it does more than just burn fat. It also protects your muscles as you lose the weight. This pilot study, reported at the 242nd National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Denver, followed 10 climbers for six-to-eight weeks as they climbed Mt. Everest.
What do extreme mountain climbers have to do with maintaining muscle mass as you age? Plenty! Extreme mountain climbers often go through periods where they can’t or don’t eat enough calories. Loss of appetite is a common problem in aging. And the result is weight loss.
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The lead investigator in this study, Wayne Askew, PhD, said, “The significant part about this weight loss is that a disproportionate amount comes from the muscle mass. This can be a problem on long expeditions at high altitude because the longer climbers are there and the higher they go, the weaker they get. The body breaks down the muscle for energy, so climbers don’t have it available for moving up the mountain.”
The same occurs in aging. As we climb this figurative mountain of age, the higher we go, the weaker we get. However, if you can preserve muscle mass, the climb is much, much easier.
And this study found that leucine does just that. But it does more than preserve muscle mass — it also promotes fat loss.
For their study, Dr. Askew and his research team used an ultrasound device to measure both fat and muscle. They found that the climbers who ate leucine-containing energy bars didn’t lose muscle mass as fast as those who ate energy bars without leucine. And they were much stronger at the top of the mountain.
As you climb up in age, it’s vital you preserve your muscle mass. And leucine can help. You can find leucine in just about any health food store and on the Internet. The usual dose is 1,500 mg per day. There is some evidence that more is better. But this varies by individual. So ask your doctor if you should take more.
Your insider for better health,
Steve Kroening is the editor of Nutrient Insider, a twice-a-week email newsletter that brings you the latest healing breakthroughs from the world of nutrition and dietary supplements. For over 20 years, Steve has worked hand-in-hand with some of the nation's top doctors, including Drs. Robert Rowen, Frank Shallenberger, Nan Fuchs, William Campbell Douglass, and best-selling author James Balch. Steve is the author of the book Practical Guide to Home Remedies. As a health journalist, Steve's articles have appeared in countless magazines, blogs, and websites.