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J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2019 Jan;20(1):22-27. doi: 10.1016/j.jamda.2018.11.021.

The Underappreciated Role of Low Muscle Mass in the Management of Malnutrition.

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Center for Translational Research in Aging & Longevity, Department of Health and Kinesiology, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX. Electronic address:
Department of Nutrition & Dietetics, Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust, London, United Kingdom.
Servicio de Endocrinología y Nutrición, Complejo Asistencial Universitario de León, Altos de Nava, León, Spain.
Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, London, United Kingdom.
Servicio de Geriatría, Hospital Universitario Ramón y Cajal (IRYCIS), Madrid, Spain.
Clinical Nutrition, Hôpitaux Universitaires de Genève Unité de nutrition Geneva, Switzerland.
Istituto di Medicina Interna e Geriatria, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Roma, Italy.
Department of Clinical Medicine, Università La Sapienza di Roma, Italy.
Department of Nutrition and Gerontology, German Institute of Human Nutrition, Potsdam-Rehbruecke (DIfE), Nuthetal, Germany.
Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.


Preserving muscle is not only crucial for maintaining proper physical movement, but also for its many metabolic and homeostatic roles. Low muscle mass has been shown to adversely affect health outcomes in a variety of disease states (eg, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease) and leads to an increased risk for readmission and mortality in hospitalized patients. Low muscle mass is now included in the most recent diagnostic criteria for malnutrition. Current management strategies for malnutrition may not prioritize the maintenance and restoration of muscle mass. This likely reflects the challenge of identifying and measuring this body composition compartment in clinical practice and the lack of awareness by health care professionals of the importance that muscle plays in patient health outcomes. As such, we provide a review of current approaches and make recommendations for managing low muscle mass and preventing muscle loss in clinical practice. Recommendations to assist the clinician in the optimal management of patients at risk of low muscle mass include the following: (1) place muscle mass at the core of nutritional assessment and management strategies; (2) identify and assess low muscle mass; (3) develop a management pathway for patients at risk of low muscle mass; (4) optimize nutrition to focus on muscle mass gain versus weight gain alone; and (5) promote exercise and/or rehabilitation therapy to help maintain and build muscle mass. The need to raise awareness of the importance of screening and managing 'at risk' patients so it becomes routine is imperative for change to occur. Health systems need to drive clinicians to treat patients with this focused approach, and the economic benefits need to be communicated to payers. Lastly, further focused research in the area of managing patients with low muscle mass is warranted.


Muscle function; body composition; malnutrition; muscle mass; nutritional supplement

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