October 22, 2021

New review demonstrates the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on muscle mass, strength and performance in the elderly

Aging is associated with chronic low-grade inflammation, sarcopenia and functional decline. The loss of muscle mass between the ages of 40 and 80 is approximately between 30% and 60% and is associated with disability, illness, and death. Age-related musculoskeletal decline is a significant risk for falls in the elderly.

Exercise and nutritional supplementation are currently recommended as preventative against the loss of muscle and muscle strength, however, most of the nutritional studies have focused on protein supplementation. Since sarcopenia is associated with increased inflammation and impaired glucose homeostasis, omega-3-fatty have also been investigated. The musculoskeletal health benefits have been inconclusive.

According to a new review published last week in Nutrients, researchers investigated the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on sarcopenia related performances in the elderly.

This meta-analysis included 10 randomized controlled trials on the effects of increasing omega-3 fatty acids in the diet or supplementation on specific muscle outcomes in 552 individuals 60 years and older. The number of study participants ranged from 24 to 126 and the durations were between 10 to 24 weeks. Also, the omega-3 fatty acid doses ranged from 0.16 to 2.6 grams of EPA and from 0 to 1.8 grams of DHA. One study provided 14.0 grams of ALA. Muscle strength was evaluated by hand grip strength and physical performance by gait speed or time up and go test.

As a result, there were minor improvements in muscle mass gain of 0.726 lb as well as timed up and go performance. Subgroup analyses of muscle mass and walk speed demonstrated that omega-3 fatty acid intake greater than 2 grams per day may contribute to muscle mass gain (1.47 lb) and improve walking speed especially for individuals consuming omega-3 fatty acids in the diet or from supplementation for more than 6 months. Omega-3 fatty acids increase the rate of muscle protein synthesis, reduce inflammation, and increase the omega-3 fatty acid composition of the phospholipids in the skeletal muscle membranes.

These findings demonstrate a role of the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on muscle mass and improvement in walking speed. Other nutrients to consider patients with sarcopenia include vitamin D, magnesium, vitamin C, collagen, BCAAs, tocotrienols, and probiotics.

By Michael Jurgelewicz, DC, DACBN, DCBCN, CNS

Source: Huang Y, Chiu W, et al. Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Muscle Mass,Muscle Strength and Muscle Performance among the Elderly: A Meta-Analysis. Nutrients 4 December 2020, 12(12), 3739.

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