Impact of medication on protein and amino acid metabolism in the elderly: the sulfur amino acid and paracetamol case

C. Mast, D. Dardevet, I. Papet

Nutr Res Rev. 2018;31(2):179-192

The optimisation of nutritional support for the growing number of older individuals does not usually take into account medication.

Paracetamol (acetaminophen; APAP) is the first intention treatment of chronic pain that is highly prevalent and persistent in the elderly. Detoxification of APAP occurs in the liver and utilises sulfate and glutathione (GSH), both of which are issued from cysteine (Cys), a conditionally indispensable amino acid. The detoxification-induced siphoning of Cys could reduce the availability of Cys for skeletal muscle. Consequently, APAP could worsen sarcopenia, an important component of the frailty syndrome leading to dependency.

The present review provides the rationale for the potential pro-sarcopenic effect of APAP then recent results concerning the effect of chronic APAP treatment on muscle mass and metabolism are discussed.

The principal findings are that chronic treatments with doses of APAP comparable with the maximum posology for humans can increase the requirement for sulfur amino acids (SAA), reduce Cys availability for muscle, reduce muscle protein synthesis and aggravate sarcopenia in animals. One clinical study is in favour of an enhanced SAA requirement in the older individual under chronic treatment with APAP. Few clinical studies investigated the effect of chronic treatment with APAP combined with exercise, in nutritional conditions that probably did not affect Cys and GSH homeostasis.

Comment: Whether APAP can aggravate sarcopenia in older individuals with low protein intake remains to be tested. If true, nutritional strategies based on enhancing Cys supply could be of prime interest to cut down the pro-sarcopenic effect of chronic treatment with APAP.