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Abstract

Volume 16, Issue 2 (March 2014) 16, 203–212; 10.4103/1008-682X.122581

Androgen effects on skeletal muscle: Implications for the development and management of frailty

Matthew DL O Connell and Frederick CW Wu

1The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing, Department of Medical Gerontology, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland; 2Andrology Research Unit, Institute of Human Development, Centre for Endocrinology and Diabetes, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK.

Correspondence: Prof. FCW Wu

Received: 15 August 2013; Accepted: 17 August 2013

Abstract

Androgens have potent anabolic effects on skeletal muscle and decline with age in parallel to losses in muscle mass and strength. This loss of muscle mass and function, known as sarcopenia, is the central event in development of frailty, the vulnerable health status that presages adverse outcomes and rapid functional decline in older adults. The potential role of falling androgen levels in the development of frailty and their utility as function promoting therapies in older men has therefore attracted considerable attention. This review summarizes current concepts and definitions in muscle ageing, sarcopenia and frailty, and evaluates recent developments in the study of androgens and frailty. Current evidence from observational and interventional studies strongly supports an effect of androgens on muscle mass in ageing men, but effects on muscle strength and particularly physical function have been less clear. Androgen treatment has been generally well-tolerated in studies of older men, but concerns remain over higher dose treatments and use in populations with high cardiovascular risk. The first trials of selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMs) suggest similar effects on muscle mass and function to traditional androgen therapies in older adults. Important future directions include the use of these agents in combination with exercise training to promote functional ability across different populations of older adults, as well as more focus on the relationships between concurrent changes in hormone levels, body composition and physical function in observational studies.

Keywords: ageing; androgens; body composition; frailty; muscle; physical function; sarcopenia; selective androgen receptor modulators; sex hormones; testosterone

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