Omega-3 improves age-related physical and metabolic changes

This is the first study to demonstrate that fish oil supplementation can increase lean muscle mass

As we age, there is a natural decrease in muscle mass and metabolic rate, which can lead to increased risk of obesity, sarcopenia and chronic illness. Protecting muscle mass and delaying these changes can positively impact quality of life in older individuals.

A 2015 Canadian study evaluated five different objectives associated with fish oil supplementation:

  • metabolic rate and substrate oxidation at rest and during exercise
  • resting blood pressure and resting and exercise heart rates
  • body composition
  • strength and physical function
  • blood measures of insulin, glucose, C-reactive protein and triglycerides.

For 12 weeks, 24 healthy women with an average age of 66 were randomly assigned to receive 3g/day of EPA and DHA or a placebo. Pre- and post-exercise measurements were taken, as well as resting metabolic measurements at 6 and 12 weeks. Results showed that the fish oil supplementation increased

  • resting metabolic rate by 14%
  • energy expenditure during exercise by 10%
  • rate of fat oxidation during rest by 19%
  • rate of fat oxidation during exercise by 27%.

All increased reached statistical significance. Also in the fish oil group, triglycerides were lowered by 29%, lean muscle mass was increased by 4% and functional capacity was increased by 7%. There were no changes in the placebo group. There were no significant differences found with blood pressure in either group.

Although this was a small study, the variety of outcomes measured makes it clinically interesting. Whereas the cardiovascular benefits are not surprising, it is significant that the women in the fish oil group had an increase in physical strength and function. According to the researchers, this is the first study to demonstrate that fish oil supplementation can increase lean muscle mass. Clinical trials with more participants would help confirm this benefit.