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Substance in coffee may improve muscle health in older age

New research suggests a molecule naturally found in coffee and fenugreek could potentially help slow age-related muscle loss.

Southampton researchers, working as part of an international collaboration, have shown trigonelline may help to prevent muscle wasting in older age.

The consortium was led by Nestlé Research in Switzerland and the National University of Singapore’s Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine (NUS Medicine).

The study results have been published in Nature Metabolism.

Preventing age-related muscle loss

Sarcopenia causes a loss of muscle mass and function in older age. As it progresses, it can cause people to become weak, frail and to lose their independence.

This research builds on a previous collaborative study that described novel mechanisms of human sarcopenia. It involved researchers from the Universities of Southampton, Melbourne, Tehran, South Alabama, Toyama and Copenhagen.

Mitochondria are the energy powerhouses in our cells. One important problem during sarcopenia is that the mitochondria produce less energy. At the same time, the amount of NAD+ in our cells declines. The researchers wanted to see if trigonelline could counteract these changes.

Testing trigonelline

Trigonelline is a molecule naturally found in coffee and the herb fenugreek. It can also be made by the body in small amounts from vitamin B3.

The researchers discovered older people with sarcopenia had less trigonelline in their blood.

They took muscle samples from people both with and without sarcopenia, and grew these in a laboratory. In both cases, adding trigonelline increased the amount of NAD+ in the muscle samples.

Feeding trigonelline to worms and mice improved their mitochondrial activity. It also helped to maintain their muscle strength and prevent muscle wasting as they aged.

Opening new research avenues

Dr Vincenzo Sorrentino, Assistant Professor at NUS Medicine, said: “Our findings expand the current understanding of NAD+ metabolism with the discovery of trigonelline as a novel NAD+ precursor, and increase the potential of establishing interventions with NAD+ producing vitamins for both healthy longevity and age-associated diseases applications.”

Jerome Feige, Head of the Physical Health department at Nestlé Research, said: “We were excited to discover, through collaborative research, that a natural molecule from food cross-talks with cellular hallmarks of ageing. The benefits of trigonelline on cellular metabolism and muscle health during ageing opens promising translational applications.”

Prof Keith Godfrey at the University of Southampton was involved in the study.  He leads the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre's nutrition, lifestyle and metabolism theme.

Prof Godfrey said: "This laboratory-based research has shown trigonelline has the potential to help maintain muscle health in older age. We now need to test this in clinical trials with people, to see if trigonelline can help prevent or treat sarcopenia.”


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