Fish oil may boost muscle strength, performance for sarcopenic women

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© Valeriya / Getty Images
© Valeriya / Getty Images

Related tags omega-3 Fish oil Dha Docosahexaenoic acid Omega-3 fatty acid sarcopenia

Omega-3 rich fish oil supplements may enhance the results of a resistance training regimen for older women with sarcopenia, with greater gains recorded for muscle strength and physical performance.

This is according to a new study from scientists in Brazil who report that that fish oil supplementation may potentiate the neuromuscular responses to the anabolic stimulus from resistance training.

“Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation may provide a safe, simple solution and low-cost intervention to counteract muscle loss and its complications in conditions associated with sarcopenia,” ​wrote scientists from the University of São Paulo (Brazil), University of Ribeirão Preto (Brazil), and the University of Birmingham (UK) in Nutrients​.

“Furthermore, resistance training remains the key element for increasing strength and muscle mass in the sarcopenic elderly.”

GOED: "Results could translate into prolonged independence and quality of life"

Commenting independently on the study’s findings, Harry Rice, PhD, VP of regulatory & scientific affairs for the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED), told us: “I find research in the elderly population to be particularly interesting and I suspect it's because my parents are in their eighties. My parents aside, research results that have the potential to benefit a particular population (i.e. elderly) for improving quality of life always get my attention.

“Given the loss of muscle function inherent to aging, there's every reason to believe that the present results could translate into prolonged independence and quality of life. While further research is necessary to confirm the reported benefits, it's time that geriatricians who aren't recommending omega-3 supplements to their patients take note of this potential benefit.” 

Sarcopenia

Muscle loss is a natural part of aging, and researchers have estimated that, after the age of 50, we lose 1-2% of our muscle mass each year. Strength declines as well, at a rate of 1.5% per year beginning at 50 years and accelerating to 3% after the age of 60.

According to a monograph from the US Dairy Export Council, the direct health care cost attributable to sarcopenia were estimated to be $18.5 billion in 2000 in the US, a number that represented about 1.5% of health care expenditures for that year.

Study details

Thirty-four sarcopenic women aged 65 and over were recruited to participate in the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. The women were all assigned to a resistance training protocol and then randomly assigned to receive either placebo (sunflower oil) or four grams per day of fish oil (providing daily EPA and DHA doses of 1,760 mg and 880 mg, respectively) for 14 weeks.

Results showed that, while both groups experienced improvements in the cross-sectional area (CSA) of the quadriceps muscle and lower limb strength, the increases were greater in the fish oil group. Specifically, CSA increased by 6.1% in the fish oil group, compared to only 2.9% in the placebo group.

Grip strength also increased significantly more in the fish oil group, while performance on the six-minute walking test was also better following omega-3 supplementation.

Additionally, the researchers reported that the fish oil group had greater improvements in measures of muscle quality, with increases of 12.3% compared to just 4.2% in the placebo group.  

Commenting on the potential mechanism(s) of action, the researchers noted that the benefits may be linked to a decrease in insulin resistance and increased activation of the mTOR pathway.

“As insulin signalling has an important role in the activation of mTOR, it is possible that supplementation with omega-3 PUFA may mitigate metabolic resistance and stimulate protein synthesis in older people,” ​they noted. “However, further studies are needed to clarify how omega-3 supplementation affects insulin sensitivity and this was not an aim of this study.

“Evidence to date suggests that the activation of mTOR is the most probable explanation for the action of fish oil on muscle mass.”

The researchers called for additional studies with larger numbers of both older women and men to further explore the potential anti-sarcopenic activity of fish oil.

Source: Nutrients
2022, 14​(14), 2844; https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14142844
“Randomised Controlled Trial of Fish Oil Supplementation on Responsiveness to Resistance Exercise Training in Sarcopenic Older Women”
Authors: N.M. da Cruz Alves et al.                                         

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