Fish Oil Supplementation Improves Muscle Mass and Strength in Healthy, Older Men and Women

Current Research: June 2015

Brief Summary of Findings: During middle age, muscle mass declines at a rate of about 0.5-1% per year. Loss of muscle mass is associated with higher risk of falling, disability, longer hospital stays, and inability to carry out daily activities in older age.  A 6-month, double-blind, randomized control in 60 healthy men and women age 60-85 reported that, compared to the corn oil placebo, supplementing with 3.35 grams (3,350 mg) of EPA and DHA omega-3 from fish oil per day significantly increased thigh muscle mass and upper and lower body muscle strength (measured by hand-grip and weight lifting, e.g., chest press, leg press). Improvement in muscle mass and strength was measured at 3 months but results continued to improve with continued supplementation. Omega-3 blood levels also increased significantly in the supplementing group. These results suggest that supplementing with > 3 grams of EPA and DHA for 6 months can prevent the equivalent of 2-3 years of usual, age-associated muscle loss and function in older, healthy men and women.

Research Abstract

Smith GI, Jullian S, et al. Fish oil–derived n–3 PUFA therapy increases muscle mass and function in healthy older adults. Am J Clin Nutr. Published ahead of print May 20, 2015. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.114.105833


Background: Age-associated declines in muscle mass and function are major risk factors for an impaired ability to carry out activities of daily living, falls, prolonged recovery time after hospitalization, and mortality in older adults. New strategies that can slow the age-related loss of muscle mass and function are needed to help older adults maintain adequate performance status to reduce these risks and maintain independence.

Objective: We evaluated the efficacy of fish oil–derived n–3 (ω-3) PUFA therapy to slow the age-associated loss of muscle mass and function.

Design: Sixty healthy 60–85-y-old men and women were randomly assigned to receive n–3 PUFA (n = 40) or corn oil (n = 20) therapy for 6 mo. Thigh muscle volume, handgrip strength, one-repetition maximum (1-RM) lower- and upper-body strength, and average power during isokinetic leg exercises were evaluated before and after treatment.

Results: Forty-four subjects completed the study [29 subjects (73%) in the n–3 PUFA group; 15 subjects (75%) in the control group]. Compared with the control group, 6 mo of n–3 PUFA therapy increased thigh muscle volume (3.6%; 95% CI: 0.2%, 7.0%), handgrip strength (2.3 kg; 95% CI: 0.8, 3.7 kg), 1-RM muscle strength (4.0%; 95% CI: 0.8%, 7.3%) (all P < 0.05), and tended to increase average isokinetic power (5.6%; 95% CI: −0.6%, 11.7%; P = 0.075).

Conclusion: Fish oil–derived n–3 PUFA therapy slows the normal decline in muscle mass and function in older adults and should be considered a therapeutic approach for preventing sarcopenia and maintaining physical independence in older adults. This study was registered at as NCT01308957.

GretchenGretchen Vannice, MS, RDN

Nutrition Consultant

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