Two weeks ago we covered the importance of muscle mass. Last week I discussed protein as a key requirement for building and maintaining muscle. Obviously, using muscles as in strength training is also necessary. I’ve included the drawing of “core muscles.” You probably know that we should work especially diligently on strengthening them to help balance among other benefits. (Some basic exercises like squats and planks help a lot as do programs like yoga and Tai Chi.) This week I want to briefly review what supplements help; what hurts muscles and what to do about cramps.
Many aspects of health affect our ability to maintain our strength. So, it is likely that we could make a case for a great many supplements. Here is just a sample:
- Probiotics. It has been shown that the elderly become more frail when their intestinal microbes become depleted and imbalanced. That often happens due to the diet and other factors common to institutional housing (e.g. rest homes). There is increasing interest in doing studies to show how probiotics may help this frailty which is mainly loss of muscle mass (sarcopenia). In one animal study a bacterial strain (Lactobacillus plantarum TWK10) was found to help build muscle. It is likely that other strains do that as well. For one thing, probiotics help us absorb and use the nutrients required to make muscle. After all the study I did while writing The Probiotic Cure, I still could not find a product that compares to Ohhira’s Probiotics.
- Vitamin D. Most studies on vitamin D and muscles do show benefit, but have used it in combination with other factors such as diet. This linked study of frailty in the elderly, indicates that vitamin D helps. But, as always, the scientists say that more research is needed. Given the dozens of other benefits of vitamin D, I wouldn’t wait to get my blood levels into an optimum range. (I have written about vitamin D in the Library and we will talk about it on the show later in the month.)
- Creatine. The body makes creatine (technically a nitrogenous organic acid) and uses it to help give cells energy to do their work. Because we don’t necessarily make enough, it has been studied as a muscle supporting supplement for many years. In this particular study of older adults, creatine was found to be more effective for men than women.
What isn’t a help
- Androstenedione (an anabolic steroid precursor) has been touted in the past by body building magazines. But, it appears to be ineffective and potentially dangerous. It is hard now to find it in a supplement. (By the way, a British study found that the advice in men’s fitness magazines is generally unreliable.)
What keeps muscles from repairing / building?
- Age and inactivity
- Overeating of calories, sugar, inflammatory fats (e.g. omega-6 from vegetables oils) and even excess protein (see last week’s blog for normal ranges).
- General toxicity
What actually damages muscles?
- One class of antibiotics (Fluoroquinolones, or quinolone)
- Some statin cholesterol-lowering drugs have muscle damage as a potential side effect.
- Free radicals or oxidants damage all tissues including muscles. Protection against free radicals is why we eat antioxidant foods and take antioxidant supplements. Glutathione is the master antioxidant. In one study it was shown that low glutathione caused DNA damage and increased molecules that tell muscle cells to die. Glutathione is expensive and not very effective taken as a pill. However, there is a beneficial bacterial strain ME3 that becomes a little glutathione generator in our gut.
Cramps are painful episodes where muscles get stuck in contraction mode and can wake us up ready to scream. Of course, strenuous activity is a factor in causing them and stretching afterwards helps. There are other factors and remedies:
- Water. Cramps seem more common when we haven’t had enough water before, during and after activity.
- Magnesium. Without calcium a muscle cannot contract. But, without magnesium it cannot relax. (I recommend magnesium for monthly cramps too.) When we work or exercise outdoors we worry about keeping electrolytes. Electrolyte sports drinks contain sodium and potassium which does help prevent cramps. Unfortunately, many (if not most) do not add the electrolyte magnesium. Since we need magnesium for so many other purposes, it is likely important to supplement it daily.
- Home remedies. The People’s Pharmacy newspaper column and website often discuss how to reverse a cramp. Among the most consistently applauded is eating a spoon full (or take-out packet) of yellow mustard or drinking a little pickle juice. The most curious remedy that many swear by is putting a bar of soap (e.g. ivory) under the sheet to keep leg cramps at bay.
- Homeopathic help. King’s Cramp & Spasm Relief would be handy to have on the night stand because you wouldn’t need to even turn on a light. Just grab it and swallow 3 sprays from the pump.
- Something to avoid. If you drink Earl Grey tea and also have muscle cramps, there may be a connection. The bergamot used in its flavoring is the suspect.