Reference Values for Skeletal Muscle Mass - Current Concepts and Methodological Considerations

Nutrients. 2020 Mar 12; 12(3):755. doi: 10.3390/nu12030755.
Walowski, C. O., Braun, W., Maisch, M. J., Jensen, B., Peine, S., Norman, K., Müller, M. J., & Bosy-Westphal, A.


Assessment of a low skeletal muscle mass (SM) is important for diagnosis of ageing and disease-associated sarcopenia and is hindered by heterogeneous methods and terminologies that lead to differences in diagnostic criteria among studies and even among consensus definitions. The aim of this review was to analyze and summarize previously published cut-offs for SM applied in clinical and research settings and to facilitate comparison of results between studies. Multiple published reference values for discrepant parameters of SM were identified from 64 studies and the underlying methodological assumptions and limitations are compared including different concepts for normalization of SM for body size and fat mass (FM). Single computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging images and appendicular lean soft tissue by dual X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) or bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) are taken as a valid substitute of total SM because they show a high correlation with results from whole body imaging in cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses. However, the random error of these methods limits the applicability of these substitutes in the assessment of individual cases and together with the systematic error limits the accurate detection of changes in SM. Adverse effects of obesity on muscle quality and function may lead to an underestimation of sarcopenia in obesity and may justify normalization of SM for FM. In conclusion, results for SM can only be compared with reference values using the same method, BIA- or DXA-device and an appropriate reference population. Limitations of proxies for total SM as well as normalization of SM for FM are important content-related issues that need to be considered in longitudinal studies, populations with obesity or older subjects.

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List of abbreviations

DGEM German Society for Nutritional Medicine (German Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ernährungsmedizin)
GESKES  Swiss Society for Clinical Nutrition (German Gesellschaft für klinische Ernährung der Schweiz) 
ESPEN European Society of Clinicl Nutrition and Metabolism