New science on the role of nutritional lipids in sarcopenia and cancer cachexia

By: Talking Nutrition Editors

New science on role of lipids in medical nutrition 

  • Increasing life expectancy worldwide has an impact on the prevalence of age- and lifestyle-related non-communicable diseases (NCDs), contributing to a rise in the number of patients presenting with conditions including cancer cachexia and sarcopenia.
  • In our latest ask-the-expert interview, DSM's Nutrition Science & Advocacy Lead Scientist, Dr. Barbara Troesch, discusses the key aspects to consider when developing effective and targeted medical nutrition solutions that meet the specific and complex nutritional requirements of patients with cancer cachexia and sarcopenia.
  • We also explore the latest scientific research into the role of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) omega-3s, specifically their benefits for muscle health, and how this contributes to better patient outcomes in individuals with sarcopenia and cancer. 

The benefits of EPA and DHA omega-3s in advanced medical nutrition solutions

As global life expectancy continues to increase, there has been a significant rise in the risk and prevalence of chronic conditions, such as cancer, and ‘diseases of aging’, like dementia and sarcopenia. This has resulted in older people and patients presenting with increasingly complex therapeutic and nutritional needs which is driving the need for continued innovation in medical nutrition solutions that can help to address these needs and improve clinical outcomes. 

Dr. Barbara Troesch, DSM’s Nutrition Science & Advocacy Lead Scientist, explains why sarcopenia has become an increasingly important area within the medical nutrition field, the role of muscle health in clinical settings and how EPA and DHA can support patient outcomes. We also look at how DSM can help to overcome some of the biggest challenges manufacturers face when developing medical nutrition products.

Here we share some key learnings about sarcopenia and cancer cachexia, the role of nutritional lipids in advanced medical nutrition solutions, and how they can support your next product innovation: 

1. Cases of sarcopenia and cancer cachexia are on the rise  

Sarcopenia is a ‘progressive and generalized skeletal muscle disorder that involves the accelerated loss of muscle mass and function’ contributing to the gradual frailty and loss of independence in older individuals.1,2,3
Previously considered an unavoidable geriatric syndrome, it is now recognized as a disease by the World Health Organization (WHO) and represents a major health problem among older adults.4 Cancer cachexia is a prevalent condition in cancer patients that have malignant tumor growth, associated with extreme weight loss and wasting of the body, as well as decreased ability to fight infection and withstand cancer treatment.

As well as incurring healthcare costs to try and manage sarcopenia and cancer, both conditions can have devastating effects on the quality of life and survival rates of those that have it. With prevalence of both conditions expected to increase as people worldwide live longer, manufacturers are under increasing pressure to bring targeted medical nutrition solutions to the market that will help to manage sarcopenia and cancer cachexia. 

2. EPA and DHA are emerging as key ingredients for medical nutrition  

Many medical conditions are linked to low grade inflammation and while this is important part of immune response against infection and disease, excessive inflammation can cause damage to tissues. Sarcopenia and cancer cachexia involve excessive and prolonged inflammation that can cause further damage to tissues and organs, including increased muscle protein breakdown and lower muscle protein synthesis. The anti-inflammatory properties of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids are well established and linked to patient health. In conditions like sarcopenia and cancer cachexia, EPA and DHA target and reduce the low-grade inflammation that contributes to the development of the disease.Here, EPA and DHA support a balanced immune response, and also resolve the inflammation when it is no longer needed, aiding the recovery in patients.

3. Muscle health is closely linked to patient outcomes 

It is well-known that muscle health is important for normal physical movement and overall health throughout life, helping to maintain our quality of life and independence. But its role in clinical settings is becoming increasingly recognized. Muscles provide an amino acid store for the body, where they can be mobilized quickly if a stressor is present, such as infection, surgical intervention or disease. If stores are already low before the stressor occurs though, individuals are more vulnerable to the stressor and less likely to recover.

In sarcopenia and cancer specifically, low muscle mass and strength may contribute to adverse health outcomes, including longer recovery times and increased risk of mortality. Preserving muscle health and decreasing the risk of muscle loss is therefore significant, especially when a condition like sarcopenia is present. Emerging research shows a link between muscle mass and EPA and DHA intake. One study found that EPA and DHA in older adults was linked to enhanced rates of muscle protein synthesis and decreased expression of factors that regulate muscle protein breakdown.This is supported by research demonstrating that EPA and DHA helps to slow normal decline of muscle mass and strength as individuals age by promoting muscle protein synthesis.[ii] In a recently published paper exploring the latest science behind EPA and DHA, experts concluded that long-term supplementation in older people is of increasing interest as the medical community looks for safe and affordable ways to slow physical disability and improve quality of life.7

4. Delivery format is key to successful adoption of medical nutrition solutions

An insight-led approach to innovation is important as it helps to address complex nutritional needs and ensure that patient preferences and medical compliance are implemented into new medical nutrition solutions. Continuous research and in-depth consumer insights are essential for this; helping manufacturers to understand the challenge at hand and inspire the creation of more appealing and palatably delivery formats that provide the nutritional support patients need.

As an innovation partner, DSM champions independence and better quality of life of older people and patients by strongly advocating a human-centric approach towards medical nutrition developments. By continuously investing in research, the latest consumer insights and scientific evidence are helping manufacturers to meet the ever-evolving nutritional needs of elderly adults and patients with medical nutrition solutions.

Download our whitepaper to learn how EPA and DHA can enable medical nutrition manufacturers to develop concept-led solutions for therapeutic areas like sarcopenia and cancer cachexia.


14 September 2020


  • Lípidos nutricionales
  • Nutrición médica
  • Nueva ciencia
  • Investigación y desarrollo


5 min lectura

Sign up for our newsletter

   Stay up-to-date on the latest science, events and market trends

We are social

Follow us on your favorite social networks.

Follow Us:


1.     Cruz-Jentoft AJ et al. Sarcopenia: revised European consensus on definition and diagnosis. Age Ageing, vol. 48, no. 1, pg. 16-31, 2019.

2.     Dodds R and Sayer AA. Sarcopenia and frailty: new challenges for clinical practice. Clin Med., vol. 16, no. 5, pg. 455-458, 2016.

3.     Frailty in older people. Lancet, vol. 381, no. 9868, pg. 752-762, 2013.

4.     Beaudart C et al. Sarcopenia: burden and challenges for public health. Arch Public Health, pg. 72-45, 2014.

5.     Dupont J 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.

6.     Smith G et al. Dietary omega-3 fatty acid supplementation increases the rate of muscle protein synthesis in older adults: a randomized controlled trial. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 93, no. 2, pg. 402-412, 2011.

7.     Dupont J 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.

8.     Troesch B et al. Expert opinion on benefits of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) in aging and clinical nutrition. Nutrients, vol. 12, no. 9, pg. 2555, 2020.

Conozca cómo DSM puede ayudar a su negocio.  Seleccione las opciones a continuación para conectar sus necesidades con la solución adecuada.

Enlaces rápidos

Premezclas personalizadas

Las premezclas de DSM son mezclas personalizadas de ingredientes funcionales deseados en una sola premezcla única, eficiente y homogénea.

Soluciones de beneficios para la salud

Soluciones para abordar las necesidades de salud y estilo de vida de los consumidores.

Soluciones listas para comercializar

Nuestros ingredientes excepcionales en productos completamente terminados, listos para usted.

Sitio corporativo de DSM

Bright Science. Brighter Living.™

Talking Nutrition

Explore la nueva ciencia, las percepciones sobre los consumidores, los eventos de la industria y más.

Servicios al Cliente

Solicite muestras, haga pedidos y vea nuestra documentación de productos.