Acupuncture May Hold Key to Reducing Muscle Loss in Elderly and Infirm

By AltMed1-Peggy  

A team of researchers from Japan presented their findings at the sixth annual Experimental Biology 2012 meeting in April that showed a promising new approach to combat skeletal muscle loss.

They were investigating acupuncture as a tool that could help at risk elderly and infirm people who can’t use the methods that are usually recommended to prevent muscle loss, or atrophy. Those standard recommendations — exercise, better nutrition, and mechanical stimulation – may be effective for most people but they can be too challenging for frail elders and people who have medical problems.


The researchers realized there’s a need for a different approach, ideally one that does not involve drugs, so they looked at the genes and proteins involved in muscle atrophy.


“Muscle mass and structure are determined by the balance between protein degradation [breakdown] and synthesis [building],” says Akiko Onda, an acupuncturist and graduate student at the Waseda University School of Sport Sciences, who has been conducting a series of studies on skeletal muscle atrophy for the past four years.

Their studies led to focusing on mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid), a type of gene or genetic blueprint carrier, like atrogin-1 that is specific to muscle atrophy.


Preliminary findings were presented at the April 2012 meeting and reported in a news release. The researchers showed that acupuncture treatments significantly reverse the problem-causing action of those genes, like flipping an “Off” switch to prevent genes that play a key role in skeletal muscle atrophy from working. 


“We hope to introduce acupuncture as a new strategy for preventing skeletal muscle atrophy in the future,” Onda said. 

How soon could that “in the future” be?  It will take a while. First more research will have to be done to get a clearer picture of how the acupuncture connection works. Then research will be needed to fine-tune the findings into a practical treatment for skeletal muscle atrophy.


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