Fish oil 'combats' elderly muscle loss


Fish oil combined with weight training can counteract age-related muscle loss in the elderly, a preliminary study suggests.

The small pilot study conducted by the University of Aberdeen found that women over 65-years-old increased their muscle strength by 20 per cent when combining fish oil with weight training exercise, compared to an 11 per cent increase in the placebo group who did not take fish oil.

Natural age-related muscle loss, sarcapenia, effects about 20 per cent of the population at 50 to 70-years-old and 50 per cent of the population over 80-years. It can lead to a decrease in muscle strength and ultimately functionality.

Over a 12 week period, 14 women conducted two half an hour sessions of simple lower-body weight training exercises such as leg presses, leg curls, calf presses and leg extensions.

Half the group took a 1.8 gram fish oil supplement - equivalent to eating a couple of portions of oily fish a week - and half took a placebo.

“We believe the benefits of fish oil are due to a number of factors,” says Dr Stuart Gray, from the Musculoskeletal Research Programme at the University of Aberdeen.

“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.”

Fish oils contain omega-3 essential fatty acids like EPA and DHA, explains Dr Gray. When taken, they help make the muscles more fluid and enable the proteins involved in increasing muscle mass to function better in the body.

Dr Gray announced at the British Science Festival yesterday that he will be continuing this research by leading a new larger trial. The first of its kind, the new trial will investigate the longer term effects of fish oil on muscle strength, mass and functional ability in male and females aged over 65 years.

“We hope that providing new mechanistic insights into the benefits of fish oil on muscles could lead to the development of new pharmacological treatments to prevent against the loss of muscle with age,” Dr Gray said.