The systematic loss of muscle mass and strength with age is given the name sarcopenia. One of the potential contributing causes involves progressive dysfunction in processing of the amino acid leucine, and this might in theory be partially offset by leucine supplementation in the diet. This meta-analysis of past studies indicates that as a treatment it modestly improves muscle mass but not strength:
The primary objective of the present systematic review and meta-analysis was to synthesize the available literature relating to leucine supplementation in the elderly with respect to its effects on anthropometrical parameters and muscle strength. The secondary aim was to perform a selective subgroup analysis when possible differentiating between healthy and sarcopenic subjects.
A literature search was performed with restrictions to randomized controlled trials or studies. Parameters taken into account were body weight, body mass index, lean body mass, fat mass, percentage of body fat, hand grip strength, and knee extension strength. For each outcome measure of interest, a meta-analysis was performed in order to determine the pooled effect of the intervention in terms of weighted mean differences between the post-intervention (or differences in means) values of the leucine and the respective control groups.
A total of 16 studies enrolling 999 subjects met the inclusion criteria. Compared with control groups, leucine supplementation significantly increased gain in body weight [mean differences 1.02 kg], lean body mass [mean differences 0.99 kg], and body mass index [mean differences 0.33 kg/m2], when compared to the respective control groups. With respect to body weight and lean body mass, leucine supplementation turned out to be more effective in the subgroup of study participants with manifested sarcopenia. All other parameters under investigation were not affected by leucine supplementation in a fashion significantly different from controls.
It is concluded that leucine supplementation was found to exert beneficial effects on body weight, body mass index, and lean body mass in older persons in those subjects already prone to sarcopenia, but not muscle strength. However, due to the heterogeneity between the trials included in this systematic review, further studies adopting a homogenous design with respect to participant characteristics duration as well as the kind and amount of daily supplement in use are required.