Heavy Drinking Increases Postmenopausal Sarcopenia Risk

Nicola M. Parry, DVM

June 08, 2017

High-risk alcohol consumption is associated with a greater risk for muscle tissue loss in postmenopausal women, a new study shows.

Yu-Jin Kwon, MD, from Yonsei University College of Medicine, Seoul, Republic of Korea, and colleagues published the results of their cross-sectional Korea-based study online June 7 in Menopause.

"The prevalence of sarcopenia increased from low-risk to high-risk groups," the authors write. "In addition, women in the high-risk alcohol-drinking group were more likely to be current smokers, and have worse blood pressure and total cholesterol."

Aging results in a progressive loss of muscle mass and function called sarcopenia, with midlife muscle mass declining to approximately 75% after age 80 years.

This translates to decreased muscle strength, which, in turn, increases risk for falls and fractures, impairs overall ability to perform tasks of daily living, and reduces quality of life. As the world's older population continues to grow, the effect of sarcopenia and its related morbidity thus represents a significant public health concern. Prevention and early detection of sarcopenia among postmenopausal women could therefore help to prevent aging-related diseases.

However, although aging is the leading cause of sarcopenia, various behavioral factors, such as alcohol consumption and smoking, can also contribute to increased risk for sarcopenia.

However, few studies have examined the relationship between muscle tissue loss and alcohol consumption. The researchers therefore set out to examine the association between drinking patterns and the risk for sarcopenia among postmenopausal women.

The researchers used whole-body dual energy X-ray absorptiometry to measure participants' body composition, and defined sarcopenia as 2 standard deviations below the means of the appendicular skeletal muscle/weight (percentage) values for healthy young men or women.

They also used the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) questionnaire to screen for alcohol drinking patterns and grouped participants into one of three categories, according to their AUDIT score: low-risk drinkers (0 - 7), intermediate-risk drinkers (8 - 14), and high-risk drinkers (at least 15).

Of the 2373 postmenopausal women (mean age, 62.4 years) included in the study, 188 (8.2%) met the criteria for sarcopenia.

Among those with sarcopenia, the researchers found that its prevalence was almost four times greater in women in the high-risk alcohol drinking group than in those in the low-risk group. The prevalence of sarcopenia in the low-risk alcohol drinking group was 7.6%, increasing to 11.0% in the intermediate-risk group and 22.7% in the high-risk group (P = .003).

The researchers also adjusted for confounding variables (age, body mass index, systolic blood pressure, total cholesterol, fasting blood glucose, household income, education level, daily calorie intake, current smoking, regular exercise, and household food security status) and showed that compared with the low-risk group, the odds ratio for sarcopenia in the high-risk group was 4.29 (95% confidence interval, 1.87 - 9.82).

The authors acknowledge the limitations of this study, including its cross-sectional design, which prevents establishing a causal link between alcohol drinking patterns and sarcopenia. And because the AUDIT was administered as a self-report questionnaire, participants may have under-reported their alcohol consumption and drinking pattern score, in particular, because alcohol use is less socially acceptable for women in Korean culture. In addition, participants' muscle strength and physical performance were not examined in the assessment of sarcopenia.

Dr Kwon and colleagues therefore stress the need for further studies to incorporate the AUDIT or other similar measures to clarify this association between high-risk alcohol drinking and sarcopenia among postmenopausal women.

The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Menopause. Published online June 7, 2017. Abstract

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