Science Update

New Review Demonstrates the Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Muscle Mass, Strength, and Performance in the Elderly

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

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

In one of these trials, the number of study participants ranged from 24 to 126 for durations between 10 and 24 weeks. The omega-3 fatty acid doses ranged from 0.16 to 2.6 grams of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and from 0 to 1.8 grams of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). One study provided 14.0 grams of α-lipoic acid (ALA). Muscle strength was evaluated by hand grip strength and physical performance was measured by gait speed or a “timed up and go” performance.

As a result, there were minor improvements in muscle mass gain (0.726 lb), as well as timed up and go performance. Subgroup analyses of muscle mass and walking speed demonstrated that omega-3 fatty acid intake >2 grams per day may contribute to muscle mass gain (1.47 lb) and improved walking speed, especially for individuals consuming omega-3 fatty acids in their diets 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 the role and effects of omega-3 fatty acids on muscle mass and on improvements in walking speed. Other nutrients to consider for patients who have sarcopenia may include vitamin D, magnesium, vitamin C, collagen, branched-chain amino acids (BCAA), tocotrienols, and probiotics.

By Michael Jurgelewicz, DC, DACBN, DCBCN, CNS

Source: Huang Y-H, Chiu W-C, Hsu Y-P, Lo Y-L, Wang Y-H. Effects of omega-3 fatty acids on muscle mass, muscle strength and muscle performance among the elderly: a meta-analysis. Nutrients. 2020;12(12):3739.