Category Archives: muscle

Vitamin D: Building Muscle in Menopausal Women

Vitamin D: Building Muscle in Menopausal Women

Vitamin D Builds Muscle in Menopausal Women

A new Brazilian study suggests that post-menopausal women may benefit from vitamin D supplementation to increase muscle strength and reduce frailty (1). The study, conducted at Sao Paulo State University, found that older women given vitamin D supplements were stronger and had fewer falls.

Menopause and Muscle

It is well known that going through menopause increases women’s risk of bone loss, as a result of hormonal changes that influence bone health. However, many women are less aware of the effect of menopause on muscle strength.

During and after menopause, a decline in oestrogen levels leads to a gradual and ongoing decrease in muscle mass, known as sarcopenia.

This type of muscle loss is a key health concern for post-menopausal women for several reasons. Post-menopausal muscle loss puts women at risk of frailty, falls and reduced mobility. It can reduce their independence and quality of life. Additionally, a reduction in muscle mass also leads to a lower metabolism, putting older women at risk of unwanted weight gain.

Vitamin D and Muscle Mass

Vitamin D is crucial for healthy muscle function. It acts on special receptors in muscle, helping to boost muscle mass and strength. Vitamin D also plays a role in protein synthesis and works with calcium and magnesium to enable more powerful muscle contractions.

Unfortunately many adults in the UK have low levels of vitamin D. In fact, 39% of adults have low vitamin D levels in the winter months and older adults who spend more time indoors are particularly vulnerable to deficiency (2).

Trial Results

The double-blind trial tested the effects of vitamin D supplements versus a placebo on the muscle strength and muscle mass of post-menopausal women. Muscle mass was estimated by the use of a total-body DXA (an X-ray scan), as well as tests of hand grip strength and fitness tests.

At the end of the 9-month study, the women receiving the vitamin D supplement showed a 25% increase in muscle strength, while the placebo group actually lost muscle mass. Over the 9 months, the women receiving the placebo supplements also had twice as many falls as those taking vitamin D.

“We concluded that the supplementation of vitamin D alone provided significant protection against the occurrence of sarcopenia, which is a degenerative loss of skeletal muscle, says Dr. L.M. Cangussu, one of the lead authors of the study.

Supplementing Vitamin D – Do’s and Don’ts

The ideal way to optimize vitamin D levels is through sensible sun exposure. This can be difficult in the winter months and can be especially challenging for those with darker skin who have a harder time converting sunlight to vitamin D.

Current recommendations are that anybody over the age of 65 should be supplementing 10 micrograms (400 IU) of vitamin D each day. Vitamin D3 is widely considered to be a better form to take than synthetic D2.  Taking vitamin D supplements alongside a fat-containing meal will also enhance absorption. Finally, many people prefer to take vitamin D alongside vitamin K as these two vitamins work synergistically.

1. The North American Menopause Society (NAMS). “Vitamin D3 supplementation helps women build muscle even after menopause: New study demonstrates vitamin effectiveness in reducing degeneration and risk of falls.” September 2015
2. NICE. Vitamin D: increasing supplement use in at-risk groups. November 2014. Accessed 30/10/2015.


Natural Energy from Oxygen in a Can

Canned oxygen has actually been around for many years. booost Oxygen have focused on the sporting benefits derived from inhaling almost pure oxygen. Their mantra is that they help sports people “get through the wall.”

The science isn’t that complicated – having a higher concentration of oxygen in your blood gives you more energy, and as Dr John Brewer from the Lilleshall Human Performance Centre says: “Extra oxygen enables you to recover more quickly from exertion. It allows someone to train and then exercise again.”

Here are some quick facts that might surprise you:

Booost Oxygen tanks contain 99.5% oxygen with a natural peppermint flavouring
  1. Roger Bannister, the famous 4 minute miler used medical oxygen
  2. Oxygen gives us 80% of our energy, and food just 20%
  3. The brain, which is only 2% of your body by weight, uses 20% of the oxygen you inhale
  4. Before the industrial revolution oxygen levels on earth were as high as 38%. In some places now, they are down to 10%
  5. Oxygen is used as the first stage of treatment for victims suffering from any trauma

The product is being used by people in all areas of sport. Squash champions Amr Shabana and Daryl Selby are regular users, as is the UK’s strongest man, Eddie Hall. Professional rugby league teams are customers, as are triathletes, boxers and Muay Thai fighters. Team GB triathlete Mark Buckingham, who recently won his first world title, uses booost as an important part of his swim training program.

booost Oxygen is available in a “super tank” size, which provides up to 100 shots and now also comes in a “travel tank” size which provides over 20 shots – this was originally developed for cyclists to fit into their jerseys, but is also convenient for runners and will easily fit into the smallest handbag. The tanks contain 99.5% oxygen, with a natural peppermint flavouring which leaves the mouth feeling fresh.

In many ways, oxygen is a great sports supplement – it has no calories, no sugar and no caffeine, and it provides an energy burst which can enable athletes to lift more, go faster or just keep going.


Lack of Vitamin D a worry for the frail

Vitamin D has received a lot of attention both in research and in the media recently, and I recently wrote about the importance of this vitamin for expectant mothers and their children. It is becoming clear that adequate levels of vitamin D are critical at all stages of life. A new study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that low levels of Vitamin D can increase the risk of death in frail, older adults (1).

Sunshine is one of the best sources of Vitamin D

The study, which analysed data on 4300 adults over the age of 60, found that inadequate Vitamin D levels increased risk of death from all causes by 30 percent.

‘Frailty’ is defined as a decrease in physical function, marked by symptoms such as slow walking, muscle weakness, low physical activity and unintentional weight loss.

The study found that those who had lower vitamin D levels were more likely to be frail. It also found that frail adults with low levels of vitamin D also had triple the risk of death over people who were not frail and who had higher levels of vitamin D.

The effect of Vitamin D on muscles and bones has indeed been known for some time. When Vitamin D receptors are activated within the cell, this stimulates new protein synthesis which affects muscle growth (2). In fact a prospective study found that Vitamin D supplementation increased the number of fast-twitch muscle fibres and improved muscle function in elderly women with osteoporosis (3). This is particularly interesting as it suggests that the protective effect of Vitamin D on fracture risk is not solely a result of its effect on bone mineral density. It may also be a result of improved muscle strength leading to better physical function and lower numbers of falls.

The study does not prove whether Vitamin D plays a causative role. In other words, it is not clear whether Vitamin D deficiency contributed to frailty, or whether frail adults were more likely to develop the vitamin deficiency because of health problems.

“If you have both, it may not really matter which came first because you are worse off and at greater risk of dying than other older people who are frail and who don’t have low vitamin D,” says study leader Ellen Smit. “This is an important finding because we already know there is a biological basis for this. Vitamin D impacts muscle function and bones, so it makes sense that it plays a big role in frailty.”

The researchers suggest that older adults should be screened for Vitamin D levels, and that they should spend more active time in the sun. A carefully managed diet can also help to boost levels. For example, oily fish such as salmon or mackerel can provide 350iu per serving, so try to include this a couple of times each week. Eggs can help too, with a single egg supplying 20iu of Vitamin D. For elderly people who spend little time outdoors it may be wise to supplement Vitamin D in order to ensure adequate levels, especially during the winter months. Sunlight is of course the best source, and just 20 minutes outdoors between the hours of 10am and 2pm will provide around 400iu of the vitamin.

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC


1. E Smit, C J Crespo, Y Michael, F A Ramirez-Marrero, G R Brodowicz, S Bartlett, R E Andersen (2012) The effect of vitamin D and frailty on mortality among non-institutionalized US older adults. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition

2. Boland R. (1986) Role of vitamin D in skeletal muscle function. Endocr Rev 7:434-48.

3. Sorensen OH, Lund B, Saltin B, et al. (1979) Myopathy in bone loss of ageing: Improvement by treatment with 1 alpha-hydroxycholecalciferol and calcium. Clin Sci (Lond) 56:157-61.


Magnesium – the humble mineral essential for sports

As the current generation of the world’s sporting elite bow at the biggest event on the planet, many athletes will be looking for that final ingredient to boost their athletic performance.

A growing number of doctors and professional coaches believe that magnesium is the single most important mineral to sports nutrition. Research has identified that even a marginal deficiency in magnesium can result in a significant reduction in exercise performance.

Magnesium allows the body to burn fuel and create energy in an efficient way which does not lead to lactic acid build up. However during vigorous exercise, critical minerals including zinc, chromium and selenium, in addition to massive amounts of magnesium, are excreted in sweat. Those minerals are then difficult to replenish.

Therefore athletes are often advised to increase portions of magnesium rich foods in their diet, such as green leafy vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and seeds. But there is evidence to suggest that this still isn’t enough for those taking part in regular sports, where magnesium will be lost much faster than average.

For example, it is extremely unusual that enough magnesium would be consumed by dietary sources alone. Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA) can be misleading, as they only represent the minimum amount that should be taken for the maintenance of health.

Transdermal magnesium chloride treatments should be used as a staple part of any sports nutrition programme. Transdermal application of Magnesium is particularly suitable for athletes who need high levels of magnesium and where oral supplementation is much less effective in the treatment of injuries and tired muscles.

Dr Popescu, Physician of the Romanian National Football Team, tested Magnesium Oil during Euro 2008 on his team both on and off the pitch. As a result, he now strongly recommends the product for further usage in other sports and teams, after it was found to be beneficial in 90 per cent of cases.

But it’s not just professional athletes who can benefit. Many studies have found that magnesium supplementation will also enhance the performance and endurance of long distance runners, skiers, cyclists and swimmers.

Of course, magnesium doesn’t just help with performance – we often forget how important recovery is. We all know the delights of the two day burn, and without quick and full recovery, training programmes can often be delayed. A concentrated magnesium bath – foot, or full body, will help relax cramping muscles as well as replace the lost magnesium.

There have been positive examples of faster recovery through supplying magnesium oil to various sports personalities. A strong example is Team GB women volleyballers, who have praised the performance and recovery effects of transdermal magnesium.

Transdermal Magnesium
Transdermal Magnesium may have better absorption rates and aid recovery in sporting individuals

Lucy Wicks, Vice-Captain of GB Women’s Volleyball Team, said: “Our intense preparation programme means we have long days of training which are tough and tiring and our bodies are being pushed to the limit. We particularly like the magnesium flakes which we use in a warm body soak after an ice bath. Our legs are definitely feeling the benefit– in fact they are feeling great!”

Sports injuries can also be avoided with transdermal magnesium therapy. Dr Jeff Schutt insists that a shortened hamstring is a result of a lack of magnesium. He believes that Magnesium Oil sprayed into a sore Achilles tendon, or soaking the feet in a magnesium rich chloride footbath as the single best thing – apart from stretching – that can be done to prevent hamstring or other sports injuries.

Dr Mark Sircus, author of Transdermal Magnesium Therapy, firmly believes that a whole new world of sports medicine is going to explode onto the scene when athletes and coaches find out that magnesium chloride from natural sources is available for topical use.

There is virtually no one who can’t benefit greatly from increasing their daily magnesium intake – it is an essential part of health. For the professional athlete however, it can mean the difference between winning and losing, or even whether they are fit to compete at all.


Omega 3 fats may help to prevent loss of muscle mass as we age

Over time, as we age, our muscle mass begins to be gradually destroyed/eroded and this can lead to weakening of the body and frailty.  This process of muscle loss is known as sacropenia.

Previous laboratory studies have found that omega 3 fatty acids (found in oily fish such as salmon, trout and sardines) might be helpful in the treatment of sarcopenia, however the effect of omega 3 fatty acids on human protein metabolism was unknown.  A newly published, small but significant, study (1) has concluded “Omega-3 fatty acids stimulate muscle protein synthesis in older adults and may be useful for the prevention and treatment of sarcopenia”.

This is potentially very important research since, as a previous research paper pointed out (2) sarcopenia is a serious problem: “Even before significant muscle wasting becomes apparent, ageing is associated with a slowing of movement and a gradual decline in muscle strength, factors that increase the risk of injury from sudden falls and the reliance of the frail elderly on assistance in accomplishing even basic tasks of independent living. Sarcopenia is recognized as one of the major public health problems now facing industrialized nations, and its effects are expected to place increasing demands on public healthcare systems worldwide(2)

This recent study (1) was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  The research scientists wanted to evaluate the effect of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on the rate of muscle protein synthesis (building) in older adults.  As I said previously, the study was small.  Sixteen healthy adults were randomly assigned to take either an omega 3 fatty acid supplement or a control supplement (corn oil) for eight weeks.   The rate of muscle protein synthesis, as well as other measurements, was evaluated prior to supplementation and after supplementation.

Analysis of the results (1) found that the corn oil, control, supplement had no effect on the muscle protein sysnthesis rate.  The omega 3 fatty acid supplement did have an effect on various rates of muscle protein synthesis.   The authors of the study suggest that  omega-3 fatty acids may be useful for the prevention and treatment of sarcopenia.

This current study was preliminary and further research would be necessary before any firm conclusions for omega 3 fatty acid supplementation for sarcopenia could be drawn.  Larger scale supplementation studies are needed.  However, this evidence could be very important in preventing muscle wastage in older age.  Many people in the UK do not regularly take in good amounts of omega 3 fatty acids, which are most abundantly found in oily fish such as mackerel, trout, salmon and sardines.  If you don’t eat oily fish at least twice every week then you may want to talk to your doctor about the possibility of taking a daily omega 3 fatty acid supplement.

(1)Gordon I Smith GI et al.  2011.  Dietary omega-3 fatty acid supplementation increases the rate of muscle protein synthesis in older adults: a randomized controlled trial.  Am J Clin Nutr .  93 no. 2 402-412

(2)Lynch GS. Emerging drugs for sarcopenia: age-related muscle. wasting. Expert Opin Emerg Drugs. 2004 Nov;9(2):345-61.

Written by Ani Kowal