Beneficial Effects of Leucine Supplementation on Criteria for Sarcopenia: A Systematic Review

F.M. Martínez-Arnau, R. Fonfría-Vivas, O. Cauli

Nutrients. 2019 Oct 17;11(10)

Treating sarcopenia remains a challenge, and nutritional interventions present promising approaches. We summarize the effects of leucine supplementation in treating older individuals with sarcopenia associated with aging or to specific disorders, and we focus on the effect of leucine supplementation on various sarcopenia criteria, e.g., muscular strength, lean mass, and physical performance.

A literature search for articles related to this topic was performed on the relevant databases, e.g., the PubMed/Medline, Embase, EBSCO, Cochrane, Lilacs, and Dialnet. The identified articles were reviewed according to Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and meta-analyses (PRISMA) guidelines.

Of the 163 articles we consulted, 23 met our inclusion criteria, analysing the effect of leucine or leucine-enriched protein in the treatment of sarcopenia, and 13 of these studies were based on randomized and placebo-controlled trials (RCTs). In overall terms, the published results show that administration of leucine or leucine-enriched proteins (range 1.2-6 g leucine/day) is well-tolerated and significantly improves sarcopenia in elderly individuals, mainly by improving lean muscle-mass content and in this case most protocols also include vitamin D co-administration. The effect of muscular strength showed mix results, and the effect on physical performance has seldom been studied. For sarcopenia-associated with specific disorders, the most promising effects of leucine supplementation are reported for the rehabilitation of post-stroke patients and in those with liver cirrhosis.  

Comment:  Further placebo-controlled trials will be necessary to determine the effects of leucine and to evaluate sarcopenia with the criteria recommended by official Working Groups, thereby limiting the variability of methodological issues for sarcopenia measurement across studies.