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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Want Strong Muscles? Make Sure You're Getting Your Omega-3's!

By Eric Ciappio

It always amazes me how certain nutrients seem to play a role in nearly every tissue in the body, and even when a nutrient has a strong relationship to the health of one aspect of health, science discovers another. The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA play an important role in maintaining the health of the heart, brain, and eyes – so what’s next for them?

Muscle mass - and consequently, strength – declines in older adults as a part of the aging process. Maintaining adequate amounts of muscle strength as we age is critical to ensure that we can continue to carry out activities of daily living, and reducing the risk of falls and even mortality. Proper diet and exercise are key to maintaining muscle mass and strength – and recent data suggests that fish oil can help to support healthy muscle maintenance, but data from randomized controlled trials were lacking.

Lacking that is, until Smith and colleagues published a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial designed to evaluate the effect of omega-3 fish oil supplementation on muscle mass and function in healthy older adults (60-85 years of age). Participants were given either a fish oil supplement (containing 1.86g EPA + 1.5g DHA) or placebo for 6 months. At the end of the study, fish oil supplementation resulted in modest but significant increases in muscle size, grip strength, and overall 1-repetition maximum strength. Overall, these data clearly show that fish oil supplementation improves muscle size and strength in older adults, which carries important implications for the management of muscle mass during aging.

While yes, these data are very exciting, we need to keep this in perspective. Does this mean that fish oil is the one key to maintaining muscle health? Of course not – rarely is there one single nutrient or activity that can claim an effect like that on our health. However, it seems that omega-3’s may be yet another tool to help maintain healthy muscles as we age, along with adequate protein and regular exercise. Don’t be like the average American who only consumes 90 mg/day – meet your recommended intakes by eating fish, foods fortified with omega-3’s, and dietary supplements.


Main Citation:

Smith GI, Julliand S, Reeds DN, et al. Fish oil-derived n-3 PUFA therapy increases muscle mass and function in healthy older adults. Am J Clin Nutr 2015; 102: 115-122.