New Scientific Review Confirms the Potential Benefits of Omega-3s in Patients with Sarcopenia

By:  Talking Nutrition Editors

  • Defined as a ‘loss of muscle mass, strength and function’, sarcopenia affects up to 38% of older adults in nursing homes, 23% in hospitals and 10% in the communityand significantly impacts independence and quality of life.
  • A new review, published in Clinical Nutrition ESPEN, indicates that omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs) can have a positive effect on overall body muscle mass and strength, suggesting that omega-3-based supplementation may be beneficial in patients with sarcopenia.
  • Read on to explore the latest research behind omega-3s in sarcopenia and how specialized nutrition manufacturers can translate emerging science into purpose-led products with dsm-firmenich’s support as an end-to-end partner.

What’s new in omega-3 science and sarcopenia?

A newly published scientific review and meta-analysis in Clinical Nutrition ESPEN has revealed that omega-3 supplementation has a positive impact on overall body muscle mass and strength – important parameters determining the risk, severity and progression of sarcopenia. The meta-analysis evaluated 66 studies in total to investigate the effects of omega-3 on muscle mass and function, and potential benefits in older adults with sarcopenia. Most studies were performed in disease populations, primarily patients with cancer or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or in healthy individuals after a fatiguing exercise period.

One of the authors of the paper, Barbara Troesch – Senior Scientific Affairs Manager Global Medical Nutrition & Pharmaceutics, dsm-firmenich – comments, “Our analysis established that omega-3 has a positive effect on lean body mass, skeletal muscle mass and quadriceps MVC (maximal voluntary capacity). This builds on existing evidence indicating the potential beneficial role of omega-3s – namely EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) – in muscle wasting conditions like sarcopenia.2,3,4 We also had a look at the outcomes of supplement duration. A previous meta-analysis only examined studies with 26+ week intervention5, however, we did not exclude studies according to supplementation length. Smith’s research group, which was part of our analysis, found that EPA and DHA had a benefit on muscle protein synthesis after only eight weeks of supplementation, suggesting that shorter omega-3 intervention (less than the 26-weeks proposed in Abdelhamid’s analysis) might be effective.6,7” However, it is important to remember that regular intakes must continue in order to sustain the effects of EPA and DHA.

Troesch continues: “Although the findings were positive, it is still too early to determine whether omega-3 supplementation helps to prevent sarcopenia or slow its progression. The majority of the studies we evaluated were small and differed greatly in the factors such as selected outcomes. In order to reduce the risk of bias, we would need large, well-designed and randomized controlled trials in elderly people to accurately gauge the effect of omega-3 supplementation in relation to sarcopenia. Perhaps most importantly though, few of the studies were conducted in sarcopenic patients – the population of interest in our review. Further research – ideally large studies with rigorous control of sources of bias – conducted in elderly populations at risk of sarcopenia will help to determine whether omega-3 intervention could improve functional outcomes in sarcopenia specifically.”

Why add omega-3s to specialized medical nutrition products?

Sarcopenia-related malnutrition remains a significant issue in the older population, and often co-exists with other types of malnutrition such as micronutrient deficiencies. In addition, many people do not meet omega-3 intake recommendations8 and have low omega-3 status9, despite the nutrients’ potential benefits. In our insight-led whitepaper – ‘Nutritional lipids in medical nutrition: maintaining muscle health in elderly and cancer patients’ – we explored the emerging role of EPA and DHA omega-3s in individuals experiencing muscle loss as a result of aging or disease, and the benefits of specialized nutrition support in these patients. The paper discusses how the anti-inflammatory and inflammatory-resolving effects of EPA and DHA may help to mitigate the loss of muscle strength and physical performance associated with aging by targeting the age-related, low-grade inflammation that contributes to the development of sarcopenia.10

Specialized nutrition products including omega-3s may therefore help to improve the clinical outcomes and quality of life of individuals with sarcopenia. However, a multimodal approach to therapy is critical for better patient outcomes – that is specialized nutrition, plus a high protein diet and exercise, and drug therapies if required.

A patient-focused approach for purpose-led innovation

At dsm-firmenich, we’re passionate about raising the standards of care and supporting the health, recovery and independence of the elderly worldwide. That’s why we take a targeted approach to specialized nutrition innovation; enabling manufacturers to develop unique and appealing solutions that will address the specific nutritional requirements presented in sarcopenia patients.

Download our targeted medical nutrition innovation guide to discover the key ingredients, including omega-3s, that will benefit individuals with sarcopenia, and learn how dsm-firmenich can support you – from concept to patient – as an end-to-end innovation partner.

Published on

06 January 2022


4 min read

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  1. Papadopoulou et al. JNHA, 2020.
  2. Dupont et al. Aging Clin Exp Res, 2019.
  3. Huang et al. Nutrients, 2020.
  4. Stella et al. Int J Mol Sci, 2018.
  5. Abdelhamid et al. Calcif Tissue Intl, 2019.
  6. Smith et al. Clin Sci, 2011.
  7. Smith et al. Am J Clin Nutr, 2011.
  8. Micha et al. BMJ, 2014.
  9. Stark et al. Prog Lipid Res, 2016.
  10. Wang et al. Journal of Orthopaedic Translation, 2017.

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