Caffeine Gives A Boost To Aging Muscles

By Chelsea Whyte on June 29, 2012 7:45 PM EDT

coffee beans
Caffeine boost muscle power, even in older people. (Photo: Creative Commons: puuikibeach)

A cup of joe in the morning may do more than just wake you up. A new study finds that caffeine may boost power in the muscles of senior citizens.

For adults in their prime, caffeine can help muscles produce more force. As we age, our muscles become weaker, which is why many elderly people are prone to falls and fractures. For this new work from Coventry University in Britain, sports scientists took a look at whether age-related changes in muscles would alter the effect of caffeine.

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For the research, which will be be presented at the Society for Experimental Biology meeting on Saturday, scientists tested two different types of mouse muscle that are voluntarily controlled - a leg muscle called the extensor digitorum longus and a diaphragm muscle - by dosing them with 70 micromolars of caffeine. That's about the equivalent of a couple of espressos, according to the authors.

The muscles from 10-week-old and 30-week-old mice, representing youth and middle age, benefitted the most from the caffeine.  They improved up to 5% for the leg muscle and 6% for the diaphragm. Very old mice saw less benefit, with a boost of up to 3% and 2% respectively, and the very young mice saw a limited 1% and 2% improvement.

"Despite a reduced effect in the elderly, caffeine may still provide performance-enhancing benefits," said lead author Jason Tallis, according to The Daily Mail.

But, Tallis pointed out, the study only looked at caffeine's isolated effects on muscle. Since caffeine cues up the nervous system, which can tell muscles what to do, that effect could be amplified in a live animal (or human), reports The Los Angeles Times.

Researchers urge caution in drawing major correlations in these studies between coffee and health, reports The Globe & Mail. Though the Coventry University study does show that caffeine provides a boost to elderly muscles, it is still a stimulant and it carries the risk of higher blood pressure and an increased heart rate.

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