In this review, we discuss the effect of increased and decreased loading and nutrition deficiency on muscle and bone mass and strength (and bone length and architecture) independently and combined. Both exercise and nutrition are integral components of the mechanostat model but both have distinctly different roles. Mechanical strain imparted by muscle action is responsible for the development of the external size and shape of the bone and subsequently the bone strength. In contrast, immobilization during growth results in reduced growth in bone length and a loss of bone strength due to large losses in bone mass (a result of endosteal resorption in cortical bone and trabecular thinning) and changes in geometry (bone shafts do not develop their characteristic shape but rather develop a rounded default shape). The use of surrogate measures for peak muscle forces acting on bone (muscle strength, size, or mass) limits our ability to confirm a cause-and-effect relationship between peak muscle force acting on bone and changes in bone strength. However, the examples presented in this review support the notion that under adequate nutrition, exercise has the potential to increase peak muscle forces acting on bone and thus can lead to a proportional increase in bone strength. In contrast, nutrition alone does not influence muscle or bone in a dose-dependent manner. Muscle and bone are only influenced when there is nutritional deficiency – and in this case the effect is profound. Similar to immobilization, the immediate effect of malnutrition is a reduction in longitudinal growth. More specifically, protein and energy malnutrition results in massive bone loss due to endosteal resorption in cortical bone and trabecular thinning. Unlike loading however, there is indirect evidence that severe malnutrition when associated with menstrual dysfunction can shift the mechanostat set point upward, thus leading to less bone accrual for a given amount of bone strain.
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