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Fish oil may protect against muscle deterioration in the elderly: Pilot study

By Nathan Gray , 07-Sep-2012

Consumption of fish oil could help boost muscle strength in elderly people by around 20%, according to pilot data which will form the basis of a new study analysing the effect of fish oil on muscle deterioration.

The pilot data from a new study was presented at the British Science Festival, where researchers explained that the new study will whether consumption of fish oil combined with weight training exercises can to help protect the elderly against muscle deterioration.

Led by Dr Stuart Gray, from the University of Aberdeen, the research team revealed that the pilot data from the new study shows that after 12 weeks of resistance exercise training those taking fish oil improved muscle strength by 20% compared to an 11% increase in the placebo group.

“This study will be the first to monitor changes in muscle function and mass in response to the combination of fish oil and resistance exercise,” explained Gray, who’s presentation announced the results of the pilot study in addition to detailing plans for a new in depth study that will be backed by a £330,684 (€417,198) grant from Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Aging muscles

It has been long known that the process of ageing reduces the size of muscles by around 0.5 and 2% a year. This process - known as sarcopenia - can result in a reduction in quality of life and loss of independence in many elderly people.

One way muscle function can be maintained is through exercise.  However, whilst in young people (18-35) exercise increases muscles mass, as we age our body is less able to increase muscle mass through exercise alone, the authors note.

As a result the authors examined whether supplementation with fish oil could help to retain or increase muscle mass in elderly people.

Fish oil study

The pilot study reveals after 12 weeks of resistance exercise training those taking fish oil improved muscle strength by 20% compared to an 11% increase in the placebo group. This pilot data will lead on to the new larger scale research which will investigate supplementation in both males and females over the age of 65.

In the new study the groups will undertake an 18 week programme of resistance training, with half the participants also taking a fish oil supplement and half a placebo supplement.

“We will monitor changes in muscle mass, volume and fat content in the participants using MRI; insulin sensitivity and inflammation in blood samples; and changes in protein synthesis and molecular signalling in muscle biopsies. These changes will indicate to us the impact of fish oil on the body in helping prevent against sarcopenia,” explained Gray.

“Volunteers in the study will also be timed carrying out physical activities such as standing up and down, walking for 4 metres and balancing in three different positions, to establish if those participants taking fish oil perform these activities more efficiently.”

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