HMB can be integral part of healthy aging discussion, supplier says

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

©Getty Images - dragana991
©Getty Images - dragana991

Related tags Amino acids protein absorption Protein muscle building Muscle protein synthesis healthy aging

The use of HMB could transform the healthy aging conversation by helping to solve the riddle of maintaining muscle mass in older adults, a supplier says.

Shawn Baier, chief operating officer of Metabolic Technologies, a division of ingredient supplier TSI USA, said HMB could be a central player in the new avenue of healthy aging.

Addressing aging at cellular level

  Previous iterations of this discussion have focused on healthy aging as a matter of addressing symptoms. This ranged from preserving joint function as a way of maintaining mobility and independence, to ameliorating age related cognitive decline and other indications.

More recently scientists and product formulators have looked at how to maintain function at the cellular level as a way to forestall cellular senescence.  This is seen as the underlying mechanism of most of the progressive failures that crop up as people age.  As more and more cells become senescent—that is, still alive and functioning to a degree but no longer replicating quickly or at all—the body's tissues function less and less well.

Nicotinamide riboside has been one of the prominent ingredients in this line of product formulation, with its claims to support mitochondrial function and overall cellular vitality.  And HMB should be part that conversation too, Baier maintains.

The ingredient, which TSI markets as myHMB, was invented under the aegis of Metabolic Technologies, a company spun off from Iowa State University that is now part of ingredient developer and distributor TSI USA.

HMB, or β-hydroxy β-methylbutyrate, is naturally produced in the body during the metabolism of the essential amino acid leucine, which is found in virtually all protein sources. It has been studied as a standalone ingredient since the 1990s.

Research continues to elucidate effects

Early research done on myHMB showed that HMB supplementation can lead to beneficial effects in muscle function and athletic capacity.  In a 2016 study done on judo competitors and wrestlers​ the researchers concluded that, “The results indicate that supplying HMB promotes advantageous changes in body composition and stimulates an increase in aerobic capacity.” 

More recent research shows that HMB combined with vitamin D3 can help elderly subjects improve muscle function​ even in the absence of exercise.

Putting a finger on the muscle building/muscle breakdown scales

The key in that research, Baier told NutraIngredients-USA, is how HMB can turbocharge the effects of protein supplementation.  The standard thinking has been to just give more protein as people age.  But without addressing both sides of the coin:  muscle protein synthesis as well as protein breakdown, that approach will yield equivocal results at best, he said.

“The way HMB works is that it increases protein synthesis while at the same time it deceases degradation.  It’s a signal to the cells to build muscle and not tear it down,”​ he said.

Baier said the issue has been somewhat clouded by the fact that giving more protein can and does stimulate more muscle protein synthesis, and that is especially true if, as in so many cases, that increase in protein is accompanied by an exercise stimulus.

Without that stimulus, though, it can just be protein down the drain, Baier said.  This can especially true for that set of consumers who are in most need:  those elderly people who for one reason or another can’t do much in the way of strength training.

“If a person is meeting their individual daily dietary requirement for protein, in those cases, giving additional protein just ends up being excess calories,” ​Baier said.

Getting back to a more youthful balance

Baier said when people are young, their protein building/protein breakdown system is in balance.  Humans seem to come with a built in set point for musculature, with some people naturally tending to have a higher fat free mass.  But whether you’re built for comfort or for speed, it doesn’t take a lot of forethought to maintain a baseline amount of muscle.

But as people age, that balance starts to get out of whack.  Muscle doesn’t build as easily, and breaks down more quickly.  Baier likened the situation to pouring water into a bucket with a hole in the bottom.  If the hole is too big, it’s harder to maintain the level of water in the bucket as you pour more in, much less get that level to go higher.

“To say that HMB is required would be overstepping it.  But if you take HMB along with the additional protein, you can optimize the effect of the protein you are taking,”​ Baier said.

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