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Ghrelin, an appetite stimulating hormone, might be useful in treating frailty in older women

Posted Jun 23 2009 6:45pm
From Geriatric Pharmacy intern, Allyson Torres, PharmD(c)
Nova Southeastern University of Pharmacy College of Pharmacy

A pilot study sponsored by the NIH and Penn Medicine’s Institute on Aging has yielded promising results for the treatment of frailty in older women. Frailty is a condition that is characterized by weakness, exhaustion, unintentional weight loss and low levels of anabolic hormones. These symptoms can lead to serious health consequences including increased risk of falls, hospitalizations, disability, and death.

There are no drug therapies currently available to help treat this condition. However, this new study shows promising results: the women in the treatment group of the study who received ghrelin injections consumed 51% more calories, mainly carbohydrates and protein, not fat, than the placebo group. In addition, their endogenous growth hormone levels were also higher than the placebo group throughout the study period. Drawbacks of the study are that it was a very small study, consisting of only 5 frail women and 5 healthy women all over the age of 70, and it was designed only as a safety and initial efficacy trial. However, due to the success of this trial, larger follow-up studies are to follow which will investigate in-depth the potential role of ghrelin in treating frailty in the elderly.

Hopefully future studies will include older men, as well as women, with a wide range of co- morbidities and incorporate a broader age span. As the Baby Boomer generation ages and rapidly approaches their senior years, finding ways to treat a condition such as frailty which affects large numbers of citizens and can have disastrous consequences, becomes more and more crucial. If future trials go as expected, the use of ghrelin to treat frailty could prove to be a significant advancement in geriatric medicine.
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