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Older women can boost their muscle strength with fish oil

3 min read

New research has shown that older women can double their muscle strength by taking fish oils. This could offer hope of a much improved quality of life into old age.

Researchers found that the participants who supplemented their diet with 3g of Omega-3 made them 34% stronger when they coupled the program with gentle physical exercise. This compared with an average strength increase of 16% when they only did the exercise training.

Functional ability of muscle diminishes with age

First and foremost the role of skeletal muscle is to enable the body to carry out day to day tasks such as standing up from a chair or walking up steps, these tasks are referred to as functional abilities.

As we get older the size and strength of these muscles and therefore their ability to function decreases as we get older. This can mean that quality of life is adversely affected and the risk of falls and loss of independence is increased.

Dr Stuart Gray, of Glasgow University's Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences, said:

"These findings provide important information for nutritional guidelines in older people where policy makers may want to consider recommendations for fish oil supplements to be consumed by older women."

The study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition recruited 50 people, 23 being women, between the ages of 65 and 81. The participants were randomly assigned to receive either a fish oil supplement or a safflower oil placebo for 18 weeks.

Alongside the supplementation all participants partook in a resistance exercise training program for the duration of the study.

Fish oil had no effect on the strength of men

The resistance based exercise training resulted in increased muscle size, function and quality in all groups, as expected. 

In men who were taking the fish oil supplements there were no extra gains in muscle function or size observed over the course of the 18-week period.

However, in women those taking the fish oil their muscle function, but not size, increased to a greater extent compared to those in the placebo group.

Omega-3 supplementation made women 34% stronger

In the women in the placebo group exercise training resulted in an average strength increase of 16%. But when the exercises were combined with an intake of fish oil that improvement increased to an average of 34%. The researchers said was due to the quality of their muscle improving rather than the size.

Dr Gray said:

"With the percentage of people aged over 65 predicted to rise from 17%, of the total population in 2010, to 23% in 2035, it is crucial to develop effective treatments for the age-related loss of muscle function."

Findings of a benefit in women are particularly important as women tend to live around four years longer than men and cross the 'disability threshold' where functional abilities are lost, 10 years earlier than men."

Commenting independently on the study Harry Rice, VP of regulatory & scientific affairs for the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3's (GOED) said:

"Given the loss of muscle function inherent to aging, the results may translate into prolonged independence and quality of life. Many elderly individuals are prescribed physical therapy, so it's not out of the question to think that omega-3 supplementation could increase the likelihood and maintenance of clinically meaningful results."

A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.