Omega-3 fats found to boost muscle synthesis in the elderly

As we get older, we can be prone to wasting of muscle tissue (known as sarcopenia). If nothing else, sarcopenia can lead to weakness, which in turn can cause us to be immobile, prone to falls, and increasingly reliant on others for our activities of daily living. One way of preserving muscle bulk as we age is to engage is some resistance exercise on a regular basis. It’s also been found that vitamin D supplementation has the capacity to enhance muscle strength (without physical training). See here for more about this.

I was interested to read this week a study which appears to have identified another factor that has the ability to enhance muscle function – in the form of omega-3 fats [1]. In this study, elderly individuals (aged 65 or more) were supplemented with oemag-3 fats or corn oil for a period of 8 weeks. The omega-3 offered 1.86 g of EPA and 1.5 g of DHA per day. Compared to the group taking the corn oil, the omega-3 supplemented group saw improved muscle synthesis in response to increase amino acid and insulin availability (amino acids are the building blocks of muscle protein and insulin facilitates the transport of amino acids into the muscles cells).

The authors of this study point out that it is not clear from their work quite how omega-3 fats exert their beneficial effects. What seems clear, though, is that the effect is not related to omega-3 fats anti-inflammatory properties. Whatever the mechanism, this research provides yet more evidence that omega-3 fats have benefits for health.


1. Smith GI, et al. Dietary omega-3 fatty acid supplementation increases the rate of muscle protein synthesis in older adults: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr 15 December 2010 [epub ahead of print]

6 Responses to Omega-3 fats found to boost muscle synthesis in the elderly

  1. Jamie 21 December 2010 at 12:43 pm #

    Or… consuming less corn oil (an omega-6), which might have catabolic effects, leads to preservation of muscle mass that would normally be seen with an evolutionary appropriate n-3/n-6 ratio! Of course this conclusion however, would upset the corn growers and might lead to us consuming less of something rather than more of something… not good for Western economies geared around consumption!

  2. Margaret Wilde 22 December 2010 at 1:21 am #

    With regard to Vitamin D supplementation which you briefly mention in this article, I can personally affirm that it has enhanced immeasurably the miserable muscle strength to which I had been reduced by wrong advice from medical ‘authorities’. Your advice played its part in convincing me to take vitamin D3 supplements.

    I had been unable to get up from a chair without a monumental and painful struggle. It’s simply not a problem now, and I feel so much better.

    Three cheers for vitamin D3 supplements and three cheers for the good folk like yourself, Dr Briffa, who have been going against the conventional wisdom in order to give us health advice supported by reliable evidence rather than by lazy assumption.

  3. David Brown 24 December 2010 at 7:51 pm #

    Regarding Jamie’s comment, excessive omega-6 intake can definitely cause muscle problems. About a year ago I stopped eating peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, an almost daily occurrence for decades. Two months later my leg pain subsided. Been researching omega-6 ever since and what I’ve found out is horrifying. The evidence suggests that this hundred year uncontrolled experiment with seed oils has wrought more damage to the public health than any other component in the food supply. Yet the omega-6 hazard has not been publicized. Got to hand it to the edible oils industry.

  4. Richard 28 December 2010 at 10:45 pm #

    I was using tinned wild red salmon (no salt/low salt, with bones) as a source of omega 3, but have recently heard that the fats may become oxidised and harmful to health, is that true? It would be a shame as it is economical, and seemed a good source of DMEA, calcium, selenium and vitamin D. I would appreciate it if anyone had any comments.

  5. Mark 22 January 2012 at 9:09 pm #

    DHA at 1.5g? I looked up a super strength omega 3 capsule and found “our super strength capsules has been highly distilled to remove any toxins. Each one-a-day capsule provides an unparalleled 600mg total omega 3, including 200mg DHA and 300mg EPA.”.

    Did they really give 1.5g DHA and 1.86g EPA in this trial? The extract I was able to read did not mention the dosage of the supplement.


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