If you feel like your muscles are getting weaker as you age, you could be right. Muscle performance can begin decreasing in women after they turn 30 and in men after they turn 50 thanks to a hormonal decline. However, you might be surprised to learn that the hormone that keeps your muscles strong is actually produced by your bones. Scientists certainly were surprised! But this new discovery provides a good reminder that keeping one part of your body strong can benefit your health as a whole.
Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center recently discovered that a hormone made by our bones called osteocalcin actually influences our ability to exercise. By examining the effects of the hormone in mice, they were able to determine just how significant an effect this hormone can have on our muscle function as we age.
For this study, the researchers first compared three-month-old mice and 12-month-old mice. They found that the younger mice had about four times as much osteocalcin and could run twice as far as the older mice before becoming exhausted. To determine if the decreased osteocalcin levels were indeed the culprit behind the decrease in performance, the researchers tested mice genetically engineered to lack the ability to use the hormone properly. Sure enough, their running performance was 20–30% less than that of their healthy peers.
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The researchers then tried the opposite strategy: They injected healthy, older mice (12 and 15 months old) with osteocalcin. The researchers were shocked to find that after just one injection, the mice could run as far as the three-month-old mice before becoming exhausted. The researchers evaluated cellular mechanisms to determine why osteocalcin was so important and found that it helps the muscles utilize glucose and fatty acids effectively during exercise.
While your osteocalcin levels will naturally decline as you age, these findings show that healthy bones and muscles are in a mutually beneficial relationship, so it’s important to keep them both strong. There are many ways to boost your osteocalcin and protect your muscles. One is with vitamin K2. I’ve written a lot about this in the past. Most people don’t get enough. So make sure you’re taking 15-30 mg daily.
Another way is with regular exercise. Just recognize that if you've waited until later in life to start an exercise regimen, you may not have the muscle capacity to function the same way the younger folks at the gym can. The researchers are interested in the possibility of using osteocalcin injections to help restore muscle function in humans, but until then, make sure you figure out an exercise routine that's appropriate for you. My book, Bursting With Energy, has a whole chapter that will help you to find the right exercise routine.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD