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Study Shows Appetite Hormone May Prevent Frailty

Friday July 10, 2009
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Frail, elderly women with unexplained weight loss migt benefit from supplementation with the body’s appetite-stimulating hormone, ghrelin, according to a new study funded partially by the National Institutes of Health and presented at The Endocrine Society’s 91st Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.

Unexplained weight loss in older adults can lead to the development of frailty, a debilitating syndrome of declines across multiple body systems. Frail individuals have much higher rates of functional decline, hospitalization, and death than healthier people their age, said study lead investigator Anne Cappola, MD, ScM, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, in a news release.

The pilot study enrolled five women age 70 or older who had loss of greater than 5% of their body weight in a year and who met at least two of the other standard criteria for frailty: self-reported exhaustion, weakness, slow walking speed, and low physical activity. The control group included five healthy women of similar age.

Each woman received two infusions into a vein, a week apart, of ghrelin or saline. The women ate 51% more calories after the ghrelin infusion than the placebo infusion, because of increased carbohydrate and protein intake, not fat, the authors reported. The only side effect of treatment was a transient sensation of warmth that four women experienced during the ghrelin infusion.

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