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Steroids and (pretty bad) protein shakes keep old people out of hospital

Give underfed senior citizens a protein-rich meal substitute and some pills from Organon, and the probability that they'll need to go to hospital plummets to zero. Researchers at the University of Adelaide and the Royal Adelaide Hospital discovered this after conducting a year-long experiment with fifty undernourished elderly people.

Steroids and protein shakes keep old people out of hospital

Steroids and protein shakes keep old people out of hospital
Because appetite decreases with age and the population in western countries is greying at a high rate, doctors are seeing more and more underfed old people with decreasing muscle bulk, bone mass and strength. Once 'old-age anorexia' has reached an advanced stage it's very difficult to stop it. The health of sufferers declines so much that they often have to be admitted to hospital.

The researchers decided to look at whether supplements and steroids might help. They used Novartis' meal replacement NovaSource 2.0, a drink containing eighteen energy percent protein, and Andriol, Organon's oral testosterone preparation. The Andriol capsules contain testosterone undecanoate, a testosterone ester that can be taken orally. Tests have shown that the body absorbs the androgens in Andriol best if it is taken during a light meal.

The researchers selected fifty over-65s who were undernourished, and divided them into four groups: one group was given advice on how to eat better, one group got Novartisí meal replacement, one group got the Andriol pills, and the last group got to take home both Andriol and NovaSource.

The men were given 80 mg of Andriol daily. The women's dose was half that.

In the year that the experiment lasted, from the group that got both Andriol and NovaSource, nobody was admitted to hospital.

Steroids and protein shakes keep old people out of hospital

The table below shows the average number of days that the subjects spent in hospital during the experiment. The number of days was less for the subjects that got Andriol or NovaSource than for the subjects who were only given advice.

Steroids and protein shakes keep old people out of hospital

The Australian research was only a small study, but it could have big consequences. The researchers plan to repeat the experiment, but with more test subjects. And chances are they'll get funding. Managers in the health care sector are tearing their hair out over the growing cost of old age. Sooner or later this is going to threaten their sky-high salaries the quality of health care. Anything that keeps old people out of hospitals is interesting.

Unsurprisingly, Novartis and Organon contributed financially to the research.

The ultra mild steroid treatment was not without side effects. "Two women taking testosterone developed hirsutism, which resolved with dose reduction; four subjects ceased the supplement because of nausea; and one man taking testosterone had an increase in PSA above the age-related normal range, which was corrected by halving the testosterone dose", the researchers write. "Older people taking testosterone treatment, even in low doses, need to be monitored for such side effects."

Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Jan 14. [Epub ahead of print].