Muscle and bone loss are not inevitable
I listened to a fascinating BBC Food Programme podcast the other day. It was called Eating Wild and was hosted by food journalist Dan Saladino.
It was fascinating in several ways, not least because it offered a glimpse into how a traditional, ancestral diet may be the key to healthy ageing.
In this half-hour programme, Saladino talks to British explorer and “chef adventurer” Mike Keen. Mike, 54, undertook a 3,000 km solo expedition, kayaking from south to north up the west coast of Greenland. During this three-month venture, he followed a Greenlandic Inuit diet consisting of virtually 100% protein and fat. Apart from a little seaweed early on, he ate no carbohydrates on this diet.
Hearing that immediately got my attention. I have a particular interest in the diets of indigenous and tribal peoples: they are entirely at odds with the dietary guidelines issued to us in our industrialised societies. This was the kind of diet that would see you off in no time, according to those guidelines.
Muscle loss begins sooner rather than later
Among the many health problems that are common to us here in the West is sarcopenia, age-related loss of muscle and function. Weak muscles can lead to a fall, and a fall can lead to a fracture. Bone loss is also a feature of the ageing Westerner.
Sarcopenia can begin as early as 40, and over time result in 50% or more loss of muscle strength.
It isn’t a given that you will lose muscle and bone with the passing of years, but prevention requires effort. To maintain physical strength, you need to up your game. That means more protein. Despite, or perhaps because of, the official guidelines, the greatest loss of muscle mass occurs in elderly people who eat a low protein diet.
That’s because the older you get, the less your ability to digest and absorb amino acids, the “building blocks” of protein structures, including muscle and bone.
Despite his lethal diet, Mike not only survived, he thrived. For three months he kayaked for up to seven hours a day, covering as much as fifty kilometres. He camped rough, or stayed…