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Women Strengthened by Omega-3s
Older women who took fish oil and exercised gained about twice as much leg muscle and strength

09/10/2012 By Craig Weatherby
Could fish oil help protect against aging-related muscle deterioration?
Last year, we reported on the results of a small clinical study from Washington University, suggesting that fish oil may do just that ... see “Omega-3s May Reduce Age-Related Muscle Loss”.
The second such trial, from Britain, supports the potential for fish oil to enhance the muscle-building effects of exercise in older people.
In addition to strength and stability, skeletal muscle plays key roles in determining overall wellbeing.
During normal aging, muscle size shrinks by up to two percent a year … a process known as sarcopenia that can degrade quality of life and impair independence.
U.S. health data suggests that one in four Americans aged 50 to 70 have sarcopenia, and that it afflicts more than half of those over 80 years of age.
As you'd expect, muscle is best built and maintained through resistance exercise using free weights or exercise machines.
However, as we age, our bodies are less able to boost muscle mass through exercise alone, with women being a bit more vulnerable to sarcopenia, compared with men.
UK study finds greater muscle gains with fish oil
Researchers from Scotland's University of Aberdeen reported the results of small, “pilot” clinical trial last week, at the British Science Festival in Aberdeen.
They recruited 14 women aged over 65 years to participate in a small clinical trial lasting 12 weeks.
Every day, the women performed an exercise program consisting of two 30-minute sessions of standard leg muscle exercises.
Half the women were given fish oil providing the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, while the other half received a placebo pill containing olive oil.
The women's leg muscle strength was measured at the start and end of the three-month trial … with compelling results:
  • The olive oil group showed an 11 percent increase in muscle mass.
  • The omega-3 group showed a statistically significant 20 percent increase in muscle mass.
Lead researcher Dr. Stuart Gray commented on possible reasons for the gains in the omega-3 fish oil 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.” (BSF 2012)
“Also the omega-3s found in fish oil help make muscles more fluid and proteins involved in increasing muscle mass function at a higher level in the body. 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.” (BSF 2012)
He announced the launch of a larger follow up study at the British Science Festival: “We will ask both males and females over the age of 65 to undertake an 18 week program of resistance training, where half the participants will also take fish oil supplements and half a placebo supplement. We will also analyze if males and females respond differently to the fish oil and resistance exercises in the study.” (BSF 2012)
Dr. Gray said the study will seek to determine the reasons why omega-3s help: “We will monitor changes in muscle mass, volume and fat content in the participants using MRI; insulin sensitivity and inflammation in blood samples; and changes in protein synthesis and molecular signaling in muscle biopsies. These changes will indicate to us the impact of fish oil on the body in helping prevent against sarcopenia.” (BSF
Men and women differ in their ability to make new muscle protein and in their responses to exercise.
As Dr. Gray told the BBC, “Older women have similar levels of protein synthesis to younger women whereas older men have lower levels compared to younger men. Older men adapt to exercise and increase their protein synthesis. Older women don't do this to a great extent, although their basal levels of synthesis are higher.” (BBC 2012)
The pilot study was funded by a grant from the UK's Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), as will the larger follow up trial.
  • Ball J. Fish oils 'help slow age decline'. September 6, 2012. Accessed at
  • British Science Festival (BSF). Could fish oil be key in protecting the elderly against muscle deterioration? September 5, 2012. Accessed at