Omega-3 may enhance benefits of strength training for the elderly

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Muscle

Omega-3 may enhance benefits of strength training for the elderly
Supplementing a strength training regime with omega-3-rich fish oil may enhance the benefits of the regime, says a new study with 45 elderly women.

A daily supplement providing 2 grams of fish oil per day for 90 days when consumed in conjunction with strength training improved muscle torque in all the muscles studied, according to findings published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition​.

The study is reported to be the first to show that fish oil combined with strength training may boost muscle function and force in elderly women.

True clinical benefit

The study’s findings were described as “really exciting”​ by Harry Rice, PhD, VP of regulatory & scientific affairs for Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED).

“The benefits for the elderly to engage (under appropriate supervision) in strength training have been known for decades,”​ he said. “What's really exciting about the current research is the demonstration that the gains achieved with strength training are greater when such training is combined with fish oil supplementation.”

Dr Rice added that, although the sample size was relatively small, the pre- versus post-training strength differences between the non-supplemented versus supplemented groups were “striking, lending support for a true clinical benefit, not just a random statistical anomaly.

“Of course, the devil's in the details and further research is required to understand the full range of benefits of combining strength training with fish oil supplementation.”

Study details

Researchers from Parana Federal University in Brazil recruited 45 women aged about 64 and assigned them all to a strength training program. Fifteen of these women received 2 grams of fish oil per day for the 90 days of strength training, while a further 15 women received fish oil for 60 days prior to strength training and then for the 90 days of training. The fish oil provided a daily dose of EPA of about 0.4 grams and 0.3 grams of DHA.

Results showed that the strength training boosted muscle torque and the rate of torque development for all muscles, and the effects were even more pronounced in both omega-3 groups.

In addition, the performance of the women in chair-rising exercises was also higher in the fish oil groups, compared with strength training alone.

There was, however, no additional benefit of a longer supplementation period, said the Brazil-based researchers.

Commenting on the potential mechanisms, several may be involved in muscle strength improvement, they said. Fish oil may improve muscle function by altering the fluidity of the cell membranes, or the omega-3-rich oil may increase sensitivity to the excitatory neurotransmitter​to acetylcholine, which facilitates fast communication at the junction between nerves and muscles and accelerates muscle contraction.

Take home

“The use of fish oil supplementation in addition to strength training potentiates the neuromuscular system, enhancing the muscle strength and the functional capacity in elderly women,”​ wrote the researchers.

“Thus, fish oil may be an attractive supplement for the elderly to maximize their neuromuscular responses to strength training, which is important to life quality,”​ they concluded.

Source: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.3945/ajcn.111.021915
“Fish-oil supplementation enhances the effects of strength training in elderly women”
Authors: C.L.N. Rodacki, A.L.F. Rodacki, G. Pereira, K. Naliwaiko, I. Coelho, D. Pequito, L.C. Fernandes

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