Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Key Ingredients to Help Mitigate the Risk of Sarcopenia-Related Mobility Conditions in Women

By:  Talking Nutrition Editors



  • Sarcopenia – a ‘muscle disease rooted in adverse muscle changes that accrue across a lifetime’1  – will affect more people globally as an estimated 22% of the world's population will be over 60 years by 20502,  with older women at greater risk of sarcopenia-related mobility conditions3.
  • A recent scientific publication has explored the role of fish oil (containing omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)) supplementation in enhancing the beneficial effect of exercise on strength in older women with sarcopenia4.
  • Discover the latest science on how supplementation with EPA and DHA may help to mitigate sarcopenia-related loss of muscle mass and function.

Sarcopenia and its impact on health

Up to 40% of people worldwide suffer from sarcopenia,5 defined as ‘a muscle disease rooted in adverse muscle changes that accrue across a lifetime’ that is common among older adults.1 Due to increasing life expectancy, with an estimated 22% of the world's population over 60 years of age by 2050, this number is projected to grow.2 Risk factors for sarcopenia include advanced age, physical inactivity, obesity and chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or cancer. Sarcopenia reduces mobility, surgical outcomes, immune function and increases healthcare costs, length of hospital stays and even mortality.6,7

The rate of muscle loss varies between men and women, though the latter generally have lower muscle mass, strength and physical function at any given age throughout their lifetime.8,9 Due to decreased muscle satellite cell proliferation, increased inflammatory marker levels, and altered sex hormone levels, older women are at a 20% greater risk of sarcopenia-related mobility conditions than men.10,11 Given the significant impact of sarcopenia on wellbeing and quality of life, there is an evident need for nutritional management strategies to address this condition – especially in women.

The role of omega-3s in mitigating sarcopenia

The anti-inflammatory effects of the omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) EPA and DHA may help maintain muscle mass and reduce the risk of developing sarcopenia as well as its debilitating effects on mobility.12 A new clinical study found that fish oil (containing PUFAs) supplementation was effective in helping to increase muscle strength and physical performance in sarcopenic older women when combined with a resistance exercise program.4 While physical training helped to increase muscle strength and mass for all women in the study, those supplemented daily with fish oil saw a trend toward higher increments in peak muscle strength and mass over a 14-week period.

The researchers posited that the use of fish oil supplements, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, strengthens the neuromuscular response to exercise to help increase muscle strength and physical performance. The authors suggest the initial gains in muscle strength could be attributed to the neural adjustment that occurs in the first weeks of training, followed by an increase in muscle mass. This means that while resistance training is key in increasing strength and muscle mass in the sarcopenic elderly, the beneficial effects of resistance exercise training in sarcopenic older women are notably enhanced by omega-3 PUFA supplementation.4

A recent meta-analysis of 123 clinical studies also found a positive association of fish oil supplementation with overall body muscle mass, volume, function and strength – specifically in the areas of lean body mass, skeletal muscle mass and quadriceps maximal voluntary capacity.13 DHA and EPA could help to reduce the risk and mitigate the progression of sarcopenia by targeting the age-related low-grade inflammation that contributes to disease development. Omega-3 PUFAs may also promote muscle strength and function by modulating muscle protein synthesis.12 Supplementation with  EPA and DHA may therefore provide a safe, simple and low-cost intervention to manage sarcopenia-related mobility conditions.

Exploring the potential of omega-3 fatty acids in disease management and healthy ageing

Alongside these promising results, researchers have identified a need for further research and larger trials in at-risk populations to strengthen the evidence and applicability of these findings for sarcopenia prevention. Nonetheless, the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 PUFAs have been established in many animal and clinical studies.14,15,16 Given that sarcopenia and many other human diseases and conditions such as cognitive impairment, arthritis and cancer involve chronic inflammation, DHA and EPA demonstrate significant potential in maintaining muscle mass.17

To learn more about the latest science on the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA and how specialized medical nutrition solutions can support quality of life for patients and the elderly, download our whitepaper.

Published on

24 October 2022


5 min read

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  1. A. J. Cruz-Jentoft et al., ‘Sarcopenia: revised European consensus on definition and diagnosis’, Age Ageing, vol. 48, no. 1, pg. 16-31, 2019.
  2. World Health Organization, ‘Ageing and Health’, 2022.
  3. J. D. Walston, ‘Sarcopenia in older adults’, Current opinion in rheumatology, vol. 24, no. 6, pg. 623–627, 2012.
  4. N. M. da Cruz Alves et al., ‘Randomised Controlled Trial of Fish Oil Supplementation on Responsiveness to Resistance Exercise Training in Sarcopenic Older Women’, Nutrients, vol. 14, no. 14: 2844, 2022
  5. A. J. Mayhew et al., ‘The prevalence of sarcopenia in community-dwelling older adults, an exploration of differences between studies and within definitions: a systematic review and meta-analysis’, Age Ageing, vol. 48, no. 1, pg. 48-56, 2019.
  6. J. Friedman et al., ‘Implications of sarcopenia in major surgery’, Nutr Clin Pract., vol. 30, no. 2, pg. 175-179, 2015.
  7. S. L. Bokshan et al., ‘Sarcopenia in orthopedic surgery’, Orthopedics, vol. 39, no. 2, pg. 295-300, 2016.
  8. L. Tay et al., ‘Sex-specific differences in risk factors for sarcopenia amongst community-dwelling older adults’, Age, vol. 37, 121, 2015.
  9. S.C. Shaw et al., ‘Epidemiology of sarcopenia. Determinants throughout the lifecourse’, Calcif. Tissue Int., vol. 101, 229–247, 2017.
  10. L. Yang et al., ‘Gender-specific risk factors for incident sarcopenia: 8-year follow-up of the English longitudinal study of ageing’, Journal of epidemiology and community health, vol. 73, no. 1, pg. 86–88, 2019.
  11. A. Geraci et al., ‘Sarcopenia and Menopause: The Role of Estradiol’, Frontiers in endocrinology, vol. 12, no. 682012, 2021.
  12. M. Rondanelli et al., ‘Effects of n-3 EPA and DHA supplementation on fat free mass and physical performance in elderly. A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trial’, Mechanisms of Ageing and Development, vol. 196, no. 111476, 2021.
  13. J. Dupont et al., ‘The role of omega-3 in the prevention and treatment of sarcopenia’, Aging Clin Exp Res., vol. 31, no. 6, pg. 825-836, 2019.
  14. S. Dyall, ‘Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and the brain: a review of the independent and shared effects of EPA, DPA and DHA’, Front Aging Neurosci., vol. 7, no. 52, 2015.
  15. A. Molfino et al., ‘Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in critical illness: anti-inflammatory, proresolving, or both?’, Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2017.
  16. P. Calder, ‘Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and inflammatory processes: nutrition or pharmacology?’, British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, vol. 75, no. 3, 2012.
  17. Bird JK, Troesch B, Warnke I, Calder PC, ‘The effect of long chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on muscle mass and function in sarcopenia: A scoping systematic review and meta-analysis’, Clinical Nutrition ESPEN 2021

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