Could the health of our muscles hold the key to healthy aging? Using artificial intelligence (AI), a groundbreaking study uncovered a surprising connection between fat accumulation in muscles and the risk of death in asymptomatic adults.
In a study published this year, researchers analyzed routine abdominal CT scans using AI to profile body composition and identify potential predictors of mortality.
The study involved 8,982 adults, with an average age of 57, and found that myosteatosis (fat accumulation within muscles) was a significant predictor of mortality risk.
Myosteatosis was found to be as strongly associated with mortality risk as smoking, obesity, or type 2 diabetes.
These findings have important implications for medical screening and our understanding of healthy aging.
Aging and myosteatosis
As we grow older, our bodies go through various changes that can affect our overall health and well-being. One such change is the buildup of fat within our muscles, a condition known as myosteatosis. While this condition has been previously linked to various health problems, a new study has revealed its potential impact on the risk of death in otherwise healthy adults.
By using AI to analyze body composition data from routine abdominal CT scans, researchers identified myosteatosis as a significant predictor of mortality risk. The study found that abnormal body composition was present in 86% of patients who died during the follow-up period, with myosteatosis detected in 55% of those patients.
Additionally, myosteatosis, obesity, liver steatosis, and myopenia (reduced muscle area) were all associated with an increased risk of death. These groundbreaking findings have important implications for how we approach medical screening and the management of health in individuals without symptoms.
In this article, we will explore how AI played a role in this study and how it could transform health screening. We will also delve into the study’s findings in more detail and discuss what they mean for our understanding of healthy aging.
The role of AI in enhancing the study
Artificial intelligence is set to revolutionize healthcare, and it played a crucial role in this study, providing two significant advantages:
- It enabled efficient and accurate identification of muscle abnormalities, including myosteatosis, among the study participants;
- The researchers used a machine learning algorithm called a random forest survival model to predict the risk of death based on body composition. This model demonstrated excellent performance when tested with different data sets.
By employing this innovative approach to analyze body composition, healthcare professionals can enhance their screening and management of patient health, leading to improved outcomes.
Myosteatosis: swept under the rug?
Myosteatosis is a condition characterized by the accumulation of fat within muscle tissue. While fat accumulation is commonly associated with adipose tissue, it can also occur within muscles, leading to adverse effects on overall health, particularly during the process of aging.
As we age, there is a natural decline in muscle mass and strength known as sarcopenia. Myosteatosis can exacerbate this decline, as the presence of excess fat within muscles impairs their function and leads to decreased muscle strength and physical performance. Furthermore, myosteatosis has been linked to an increased risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and mobility issues. Although, myosteatosis is rarely picked up from routine imaging.
During routine medical examinations, imaging scans are typically performed for specific reasons like investigating abdominal pain or staging cancer. However, these scans inadvertently capture more information than is immediately necessary, providing an opportunity to explore the scan for different findings related to various health outcomes.
Over the past decade, researchers began investigating body composition through opportunistic screening. Analyzing CT scans of the abdomen and pelvis to extract valuable information about markers related to obesity, including myosteatosis, became an area of focus. Initially, these markers — if analyzed at all — were done so manually, which was time-consuming and limited in scope. Now, with the help of AI algorithms, researchers can automatically analyze large amounts of imaging data, enabling a more comprehensive understanding of body composition.
What does this mean for healthy aging?
While this study is not the first to identify myosteatosis as a predictor of mortality risk, the authors state that further research is required to determine whether reducing muscle fat could be a novel strategy to reduce the impacts of myosteatosis and promote healthy aging. It may therefore be premature to take immediate action based solely on these results.
However, some general advice for healthy aging and information about sarcopenia is worth considering. You might also like to inquire with your doctor about information about sarcopenia (muscle loss not solely related to age) myosteatosis and whether it is worth investigating for your personal situation.
Here are some general tips for healthy aging:
- Make sure to consume adequate quantities of fruits and vegetables while reducing intake of processed foods.
- It is easy to get caught up on the couch, but make sure to be active for at least 30 minutes every day. Include some weight training if possible.
- Smoking is perhaps the biggest threat to healthy aging.
- Don’t be afraid to visit the doctor. It is easy to visit when ill, but scheduling appointments for preventative measures will help increase the likelihood of healthy aging if a disease is caught early.
- Memory struggles like dementia are not a part of normal aging and require medical attention immediately.
In conclusion, the use of AI helped researchers strengthen the body of evidence highlighting the significance of myosteatosis as a predictor of mortality risk in asymptomatic adults. By harnessing the power of AI, researchers have enhanced our ability to identify undesirable body composition changes and their impacts on healthy aging. While further research is needed to explore whether targeting these changes will have a therapeutic effect, adopting healthy lifestyle habits and discussing any concerns with your doctor can contribute to a better aging experience.
- Radiology. AI-based CT Body Composition Identifies Myosteatosis as Key Mortality Predictor in Asymptomatic Adults.
- Frontiers in Endocrinology. Fatty Infiltration of Skeletal Muscle: Mechanisms and Comparisons with Bone Marrow Adiposity.
- Radiology. One Step Forward in Opportunistic Screening for Body Composition.
- Frontiers in Physiology. Myosteatosis in the Context of Skeletal Muscle Function Deficit: An Interdisciplinary Workshop at the National Institute on Aging.