Muscle loss is a common phenomenon when aging, but sometimes abnormal muscle loss may be indicative of an underlying disorder or medical condition. It’s not uncommon for athletes to experience muscle loss during and after physical training. Muscle breakdown can also be an early indicator of an underlying serious medical problem or psychological disorder. For instance, a traumatic brain injury can result in temporary muscle weakness or atrophy. People suffering from depression may exhibit signs of depression such as muscular weakness. Muscle breakdown may also be the result of high levels of cortisol in the body which is normally associated with depression and other mood disorders.
A variety of illnesses including diabetes, kidney disease, obesity and thyroid problems, along with low levels of testosterone and human growth hormone (HGH), can result in decreased concentrations of glycogen. Glycogen is the primary source of glucose for the body. As glucose concentrations in the body decrease, glycogen concentrations in muscles decrease. Muscle weakness and atrophy may then accompany decreased levels of glycogen. Muscle loss is often the first symptom of diabetes, especially when the disease has reached the thirties and becomes resistant to insulin therapy. Similarly, low concentrations of human growth hormone (HGH) have been identified in individuals with diabetes.
When the causes of muscle atrophy are medical conditions, the doctor may recommend testing for those conditions. If the test shows that the disorder is not related to heart disease, diabetes or other health conditions, the doctor may recommend treatment. Those who are overweight, however, should be careful about the exercises they choose because over-exercising can lead to increased fat levels around the heart. Moreover, if the muscle loss is due to psychological problems such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or post-traumatic stress disorder, the doctor may recommend cognitive behavioral therapy in addition to medications. In some cases, surgery may be required to replace the damaged muscle fibers.
The causes of muscle atrophy, if medical conditions are ruled out, can result from overuse, overtraining, overstressing or disuse. Overuse occurs when a person concentrates on his or her exercises too hard, making it difficult for that person to rest. Over training or overstressing occurs when a person engages in a strenuous activity over a long period of time. Disuse occurs when that person uses excessive force to do the exercises, causing damage to the muscles and tendons. It has also been identified that immobility can contribute to muscle loss because immobility forces a person to adapt to his or her environment and may prevent that person from fully utilizing his or her muscles. For example, people may become immobile after being on a marathon run or a long bicycle ride, which requires them to rest for a few days before attempting another marathon or bike ride again.
Fatigue caused by low energy levels has also been associated with muscle loss and with low protein breakdown rates. Low energy levels have been linked with weakness, reduced muscle strength, reduced physical performance, increased body fat, increased oxidative stress, decreased immune function and cancer. A diet low in carbohydrates, fats and protein may contribute to muscle loss and reduced physical function. It may help to increase the amount of the following essential nutrients: carbohydrates, protein and fat. A diet high in complex carbohydrates and low in simple carbohydrates has been shown to be effective in improving insulin sensitivity and in controlling diabetes.
Immobility may also be caused by other diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or sleep apnea. In patients with these diseases, the respiratory muscles are not able to completely contract during sleep. As a result, air cannot flow through the lungs and the heart has to work harder in pumping blood and oxygen to the different parts of the body. This can cause the brain to work harder also. The result is low levels of energy and low levels of stamina. Muscle wasting or immobility has been associated with these diseases and is one of the most serious consequences of those diseases.