Inhibiting an enzyme associated with age-related muscle wasting could help prevent or reverse some of the effects of ageing, according to a study.

Researchers at the University of Birmingham identified the role played by the enzyme "11β-HSD1" in the degenerative effects of ageing including sarcopenia (age-related muscle wasting).

The research is published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

The study on 134 healthy volunteers aged 20-80 found the expression of 11β-HSD1, responsible for activating the steroid hormone cortisol, was increased in the muscles of older females by as much as 2.72 fold.

In male participants, no difference was seen based on age.

Dr Zaki Hassan-Smith, from the University of Birmingham, said: "As yet, we don't know why it appears to only occur in women, it is obviously an interesting area for further research. We are planning to look at whether hormones such as estrogens could be involved."

High levels of the enzyme aligned with increased levels of cortisol, reduced grip strength, insulin resistance and a poorer body composition profile.

Dr Hassan-Smith explained: "Looking at this particular enzyme seemed like an intriguing way forward. We knew how it works in relation to Cushing's Syndrome, which is characterised by similar symptoms, and thought it would be worthwhile applying what we knew to the ageing population."

Cushing's Syndrome is a rare disease caused by high cortisol levels causing marked changes in their body composition, including muscle wasting and weakness, weight gain, thinning of the bones, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Pharmaceutical companies are developing and testing inhibitors of 11β-HSD1 with a focus on treatments for such conditions as diabetes.

Researchers from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), the Mayo Clinic and other institutions had recently developed a class of drugs known as senolytics that dramatically slows the ageing process by assisting senescent cells in dividing, thus slowing the ageing process.