Anyone who’s in midlife or beyond has probably noticed that you have to work harder to maintain muscle strength and mass as you age. However, a pilot study suggests that fish oil may make your muscles act younger, minimizing the effect of normal age-related muscle loss.
During healthy aging, muscle size is reduced by approximately 0.5-2% a year. This process - known as sarcopenia - can result in a reduction in quality of life and loss of independence.
One way muscle function can be maintained is through exercise. But as we age our body is less able to increase muscle mass through exercise alone. In the last few years, researchers have found that our body needs additional nutritional support as well, including added protein, certain vitamins and now, fish oil.
Among a group of elderly women, University of Aberdeen researchers found that 12 weeks of resistance exercise training coupled with taking fish oil improved muscle strength by 20% compared to an 11% increase in the placebo group.
“We believe the benefits of fish oil are due to a number of factors. Older people tend to have low-level inflammation in the body which interferes with the muscles’ ability to increase strength and mass. The anti-inflammatory qualities found in fish oil may reduce this inflammation and therefore inhibit this interference,” said lead researcher, Dr. Stuart Gray.
The omega-3 found in fish oil helps make muscles more fluid and proteins involved in increasing muscle mass function at a higher level in the body, he added.
Based on these encouraging results, a new longer study will soon be underway. In this study, males and females over the age of 65 will participate in an 18 week course of resistance training. Half the participants will take fish oil supplements the other half a placebo.
To determine the impact of fish oil in combating sarcopenia, the research will monitor changes in muscle including mass, volume and fat content using MRI. They will also measure insulin sensitivity and inflammation in blood samples and changes in protein synthesis and molecular signaling in muscle biopsies.
The research team hopes that providing new insights into the benefits of fish oil on muscles could lead to the development of new treatments to prevent against the loss of muscle with age.
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