Researcher Puts Muscle Supplements To the Test
Karen Ball knows a lot about muscles.
Her knowledge is based on science more than personal bodybuilding. The associate professor of exercise and health science at Alma College examines commercially available supplements that claim to enhance muscle mass.
Using a model system in which she literally grows muscle tissue in the lab, Ball modifies the external environment to see if changes there will alter the muscle tissue formation, either enhancing or inhibiting it.
Karen Ball, right
Her research is vital in more ways than just predicting whether someone can look and feel like a body builder, says Ball.
“While we tend to think of muscle mass only in the context of human performance, there are important clinical applications,” says Ball. “There are disease states, such as AIDS, where muscle wasting is an issue, so this information could be really important.”
A student who came to Ball with a supplement that gave a detailed scientific explanation of how it works inspired the idea for the research. The supplement not only claimed that it would increase the number of muscle cells and precursors that make muscle cells, it also said it would enhance the ability of precursors to become the final mature muscle cell.
The pair realized they could test these claims and see exactly how the supplement worked.
“We were able to study these processes, and we found that the supplement does exactly the opposite. It actually inhibits the number of precursor cells as well as inhibits the ability of those cells to form functional muscle cells,” says Ball.
In addition to clinical applications, the research is a great way of introducing the cellular technique to students who are normally more interested in studying the whole organism.
“There is a big gap between work in the lab and the outside world, so this is a way to bridge that gap. When students can actually see what they’ve learned, they get really jazzed about it,” says Ball.
Ball plans to continue working on this project. The core of the research can either be tailored to focus on the human performance enhancement, or the cellular biology can be studied to dissect what steps of muscle formation are affected.
“There are many cases where products are making similar claims and even go as far to say that they also have the data to back it up, but they don’t. Whether the research is aimed toward recreation or pharmaceutical purposes, it is very exciting work,” says Ball.
Posted: Sat, November 21st, 2009 at 12:58PM