Experiments show blood pressure drugs could help fight frailty

Aug 20, 2010

University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston researchers believe they've found a way to use widely available blood pressure drugs to fight the muscular weakness that normally accompanies aging.

The discovery draws on research linking the loss of muscle mass with age-related changes in the behavior of the hair-thin blood vessels, or capillaries, which supply muscles with the they need for growth.

"When a young person eats food, causes the blood vessels in the muscle to dilate, so a lot of blood goes into the muscle and a lot of amino acids are available to build muscle proteins," said UTMB professor Elena Volpi, senior author of a paper on the work ("Pharmacological vasodilation improves insulin-stimulated muscle protein anabolism but not glucose utilization in older adults") now available in the "Online Ahead of Print" section of the journal Diabetes. "Older people's blood vessels have far less response to insulin, but we found that if you give them a drug that causes them to dilate, you can increase the nutritive flow to the muscles and completely restore normal growth."

Drugs that induce to widen, called vasodilators, are commonly used to control and prevent angina. The UTMB study used sodium nitroprusside, a drug used in hospitals and administered intravenously.

The researchers enrolled 12 healthy older volunteers for the study, and separated them randomly into two six-person groups. Working in UTMB's Clinical Research Center, the investigators performed the delicate task of inserting catheters into the arteries and veins feeding and draining the subjects' leg muscles, and then used the arterial catheter to infuse the muscles with insulin at levels similar to those generated by a meal. One group of volunteers was given the vasodilator drug, while the other received a placebo.

Blood sample and muscle biopsy analysis produced estimates of muscle protein synthesis and breakdown. The results were impressive: virtually normal in the older subjects given the vasodilator with insulin.

"By giving them this vasodilator, we were able to make our 70-year-olds look like 30-year-olds, at least in terms of muscle growth," said postdoctoral fellow Kyle Timmerman, a lead author of the paper. The study was co-led by medical student and graduate research fellow Jessica Lee.

While the researchers cautioned that larger studies would be needed to confirm their findings, they expressed optimism about vasodilator drugs' potential as tools for keeping older people from falling into frailty, and living happier, healthier and more independent lives.

"If by improving blood flow during and immediately after eating we can improve muscle growth in response to meals in older people, then we're going to have a major new tool to reduce muscle loss with aging," Volpi said. "By itself, that could mean a substantially decreased risk of physical dysfunction and disability."

Explore further: US scientists make embryonic stem cells from adult skin

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Insulin boost restores muscle growth in elderly

Sep 25, 2009

When most people think of insulin, they think of diabetes — a disease that arises when, for one reason or another, insulin can't do the critical job of helping the body process sugar. But the hormone has another, less well-known ...

Muscle: 'Hard to build, easy to lose' as you age

Sep 11, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Have you ever noticed that people have thinner arms and legs as they get older? As we age it becomes harder to keep our muscles healthy. They get smaller, which decreases strength and increases the likelihood ...

A stronger future for the elderly

Sep 11, 2008

Experts at The University of Nottingham are to investigate the effect of nutrients on muscle maintenance in the hope of determining better ways of keeping up our strength as we get old.

Recommended for you

Leeches help save woman's ear after pit bull mauling

22 hours ago

(HealthDay)—A pit bull attack in July 2013 left a 19-year-old woman with her left ear ripped from her head, leaving an open wound. After preserving the ear, the surgical team started with a reconnection ...

New pain relief targets discovered

Apr 17, 2014

Scientists have identified new pain relief targets that could be used to provide relief from chemotherapy-induced pain. BBSRC-funded researchers at King's College London made the discovery when researching ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Treating depression in Parkinson's patients

A group of scientists from the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging has found interesting new information in a study on depression and neuropsychological function in Parkinson's ...

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...