NIH-funded study provides hope for aging adults

Age-related muscle loss is inevitable

skeletel muscle graphic with text Muscle loss accelerates starting at age 40. By 80, the average person will lose 30 to 40% of their muscle mass and 20 to 40% of their strength.

The year-long randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study evaluated the effects of HMB in combination with Vitamin D3 on muscle health in older adults with and without exercise training.

Researchers found HMB and Vitamin D3 improved muscle function in older adults, even without exercise.

HMB boosts muscle health in older adults by both stimulating protein synthesis and reducing muscle breakdown. Higher Vitamin D3 levels are associated with greater strength and superior muscle function, especially in older adults. The study indicated that the proper ratio of HMB and Vitamin D3 can boost effects, helping improve muscle function in an entire generation of people.

The study was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health and published in The Journals of Gerontology.

Study Abstract

The primary aim of this study was to determine whether supplementation with calcium β-hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate (HMB) and Vitamin D3 (D) would enhance muscle function and strength in older adults. Older adults over 60 years of age with insufficient circulating 25-hydroxy-Vitamin D (25OH-D) levels were enrolled in a double-blinded controlled 12-month study.

Long-term Effects of Calcium β-Hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate (HMB) and Vitamin D3 Supplementation on Muscular Function in Older Adults with and without Resistance Training: A Randomized, Double-blind, Controlled Study
The Journals of Gerontology


NIH Study Infographic

Check out this infographic to learn more

  • Scientist at Metabolic Technologies John Rathmacher headshot / NIH Study HMB + Vitamin D3
    John Rathmacher, Ph.D.
    Principal Investigator

    "The most exciting thing about this study is that with HMB+D, there was a significant improvement in muscle function in the non-exercise group specifically. That is very powerful given the percentage of our older adult population who are unable or unwilling to exercise.”

  • Stout Headshot / NIH Study HMB + Vitamin D3
    Jeffrey R. Stout, Ph.D.
    Studied HMB on and off for 25 years

    “Exercise is ultimately the most powerful medicine. This study indicates that HMB may be perfect for people who can’t or won’t exercise. It may get people to the point where they are more functional and can start to exercise.”

  • Lisa Pitchford Headshot / NIH Study HMB + Vitamin D3
    Lisa Pitchford, Ph.D.
    Research Scientist, MTI Biotech, Inc.

    “Day-to-day activities get more difficult as we age. This study evaluated healthy older adults’ muscle function as it relates to their everyday lives, from their ability to get out of a chair and walking short distances to carrying groceries inside the house. In the HMB+D group, those basic daily tasks became easier. Those taking HMB+D also reported feeling more active and energetic. While HMB+D does not replace exercise, it can help fill certain lifestyle gaps by helping to protect and even improve muscle health.”

  • Shawn Baier Headshot / NIH Study HMB + Vitamin D3
    Shawn Baier
    VP of Business Development, TSI Innovative Products Division

    “As one of the original researchers on the project that discovered the promising association between HMB and vitamin D3, it was really special to have this most recent study confirm our hypothesis that supplementing with HMB and vitamin D3 could improve muscle function. This combination works in older individuals who aren’t exercising, which is critical because some people simply can’t exercise enough to maintain their muscle function and quality of life.”

  • Naji Abumrad Headshot / NIH Study of HMB + Vitamin D3
    Naji M. Abumrad, MD
    Vanderbilt University

    “This study affects people in my age group. Even though they may consider themselves to be healthy, nearly 85% of adults above age 60 don’t exercise regularly. Muscle health is extremely important at our age. We can’t afford to lose our balance and fall. That’s why it is encouraging to see the data indicating that with HMB plus vitamin D3 leads to muscle function almost identical to exercise. The study also showed those taking HMB felt more energetic. That is significant because part of the reason older adults don’t exercise is fear of fatigue. I take HMB daily and I bicycle an average of 70 miles per week.”

Study FAQ

What is HMB?

HMB stands for β-hydroxy β-methylbutyrate, which is naturally produced in our bodies during the metabolism of the essential amino acid leucine. Leucine is a part of the food chain – we eat it every day in soybeans, beef, alfalfa, and fish.

How does HMB work?

HMB aids in increasing muscle protein in two ways:

  1. Decreases protein breakdown from hard workouts. HMB disrupts protein breakdown by decreasing the ubiquitin-proteasome proteolytic pathway.
  2. Increases protein synthesis for increased strength. Several studies indicate that HMB stimulates protein synthesis through multiple mechanisms including the mTOR pathway.
How many people participated in the study? What was measured?

There were 117 healthy adults ages 60 and older in the study. They were randomly assigned to take HMB + Vitamin D3 or a placebo supplement. In each group, half of the subjects participated in a mild resistance training program, while the other half did not exercise. The exercise consisted of 60-minute supervised progressive resistance training sessions, three days a week. Researchers measured physical function, muscle strength and body composition at three-month intervals.

What were the results?

The results indicated that HMB’s long-term functional benefits are fully realized among older adults when there is sufficient Vitamin D3 present:

  • Among non-exercisers, participants taking HMB+D experienced greater improvements in physical function and tended to have greater increases in strength than did participants taking the placebo supplement, and they sustained this improvement over one year.
  • Exercise was not needed to realize the muscle health benefits of HMB+D. Combining HMB+D and moderate resistance training did not provide any further benefit over either exercise or HMB+D alone. “This indicates that HMB+D may uniquely protect muscle strength and physical function in those who are unable or unwilling to exercise such as older adults who are frail or have age-related muscle loss,” explains  principal investigator John Rathmacher.
  • HMB+D may also help people feel more energetic. In addition to physical benefits, HMB+D increased ‘high activation’ emotions.
Is consuming additional protein sufficient for maintaining muscle mass?

According to principal investigator John Rathmacher, Ph.D. “It is unrealistic to simply increase dietary protein because as we age, we begin to lose our ability to respond to certain signals such as how our body responds to ingesting protein or to exercise. As a result, we need more protein or exercise to achieve the same muscle growth responses.”

HMB can boost muscle health in older adults, as it uniquely both stimulates protein synthesis and reduces muscle breakdown. And, higher Vitamin D levels are associated with greater strength and superior muscle function, especially in older adults. “With this study, we now understand HMB and Vitamin D3 can have a synergistic effect in older adults, superior to what either can do individually,” said Rathmacher.

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