Omega-3s Enhance Muscle Strength

Another reason to consume Omega-3 essential fatty acids …

… by preventing sarcopenia, the loss of muscular fitness with age

There are lots of reasons to supplement with Omega-3 marine oils. Foremost, it is a significant risk reducer for heart disease, the number one killer in the U.S., causing nearly 610,000 deaths per year. Sudden death heart attack is the largest cause of “natural” death resulting in about 325,000 adult deaths each year. However, taking 2-3 grams per day of Omega-3s can reduce your risk of sudden heart attack death by 50–80%.The beneficial fatty acids that comprise marine oil are mostly DHA and EPA, with scientific support leaning heavily toward DHA as the more important of the two.

Omega-3s Reduce Death from Arrhythmias and Tachycardia

Omega-3s also reduce death from arrhythmias, including ventricular fibrillation (the most commonly identified arrhythmia in cardiac arrest) and tachycardia (heart rate exceeds normalcy). This nutritional supplement also diminishes thrombosis (formation of blood clots), and thus helps prevent myocardial infarction (heart attacks). It also produces favorable effects on other factors related to cardiovascular risk, including blood pressure and heart rate.

Not to be ignored, when used along with EGCG (a polyphenol from green tea) Omega-3s act synergistically to inhibit cerebral amyloid-beta deposits and this may benefit those with mild cognitive impairment, dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease.

There are many other applications. For example: In a recent meta-analysis, Omega-3 supplementation had a significant lowering effect on three inflammation markers, TNF-α, IL-6 and CRP in three groups of subjects (subjects with chronic non-autoimmune disease, subjects with chronic autoimmune disease and healthy subjects).1

The beneficial fatty acids that 
comprise marine oil are mostly DHA 
and EPA, with scientific support 
leaning heavily toward DHA as the 
more important of the two.

Slowing Muscle Mass and Function Decline

In a new study, fish oil-derived Omega-3 supplementation has been found to slow the “normal” decline in muscle mass and function in older adults, according to researchers from Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO.1 Thus, Omega-3s should be considered a therapeutic approach for preventing sarcopenia and maintaining physical independence in mid-life and in the elderly. This benefit should not be dismissed; it is not just for athletes. It’s for everyone over the age of 45. With sarcopenia-reduced musculature, the death rate goes up, and not just from falls. One recent study found that sarcopenia is associated with mortality, independently of age and other clinical and functional variables.3

Muscle loss starts to occur in 
middle age at a rate of 0.5 to 1% in 
muscle mass per year.

Sarcopenia (derived from the Greek words for “flesh” and “poverty”) is the degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass with age. This loss starts to occur in middle age at a rate of 0.5 to 1% in muscle mass per year. In addition, muscle tissue undergoes morphologic changes that are manifested by increased infiltration with fat and connective tissue, which negatively affects muscle strength (i.e., maximal force produced) and power (i.e., amount of work performed per unit of time), and results in a 2–3% decline of muscle function per year. As a component of the frailty syndrome, you don’t have to suffering from a disease to experience sarcopenia; you can otherwise be quite healthy.

Preserving Vitality and Lifespan

With age, declines in muscle mass and muscle function are major risk factors for preserved vitality and lifespan. Muscle associated degeneration includes impaired abilities to carry out the activities of every day functioning, the prevention of falls, prolonged recovery time after hospitalization, and mortality in older adults.

New strategies that can slow the age-related loss of muscle mass and function are needed to help older adults maintain adequate performance status to reduce these risks and maintain independence. With this in mind, the researchers evaluated the efficacy of fish oil-derived Omega-3s to slow the age-associated loss of muscle mass and function.

Sixty healthy 60-85-year-old men and women were randomly elected to receive Omega-3 (n = 40) or corn oil (n = 20) therapy for 6 months. Thigh muscle volume, handgrip strength, one-repetition maximum lower- and upper-body strength (1-RM), and average power during isokinetic leg exercises were evaluated before and after treatment.

Forty-four subjects completed the study [29 subjects (73%) in the Omega-3 group; 15 subjects (75%) in the control group]. Compared with the control group, 6 months of Omega-3s increased thigh muscle volume by 3.6%, handgrip strength (2.3 kg), one-repetition maximum (1-RM) (4.0%), and tended to increase average isokinetic power (5.6%). Six months of daily Omega-3 supplements were associated with a 3.6% increase in muscle volume in the thigh and a 4% increase in muscle strength, according to the findings published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.2

Thus, we can say that fish oil–derived Omega-3 therapy slows the normal decline in muscle mass and function in older adults and should be considered a therapeutic approach for preventing sarcopenia and maintaining physical independence in older adults.

One recent study found that 
sarcopenia is associated with 
mortality, independently of age 
and other clinical and 
functional variables.

Statistically and Clinically Significant Beneficial Effects

Quoting the first author of the study, Gordon Smith, PhD, “In this RCT, we showed that 6 months of [Omega-3] therapy had both statistically and clinically significant beneficial effects on thigh muscle volume, handgrip strength, and upper- and lower-body 1-RM muscle strength and tended to increase the average isokinetic leg muscle power. In addition, treatment was well tolerated with only minor adverse effects [Emphasis added].”4

Slow and Prevent Aging-Associated Decline in Physical Function

Continued Smith, “These data show that fish oil–derived [Omega-3s] supplementation deserves consideration as a potential therapy to slow, and possibly prevent, the aging-associated decline in physical function.”4

Prolong Your Independence! Be the Best that You Can Be

Also commenting on the study’s findings, Harry Rice, PhD, VP of regulatory & scientific affairs for the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s said, “Given the loss of muscle mass and function inherent to aging, the results suggest that fish oil supplementation could provide a true clinical benefit—prolonged independence. … At a time when quality of life tends to decline for many, why wouldn't you do everything within your power to be the best that you can be [Emphasis added] … As if the known cardiovascular benefits associated with increasing intake of EPA and DHA aren’t incentive enough to take your fish oil, now there’s yet one more reason.”4

Omega-3s Enhance the Effects of 
Strength Training in Elderly Women

Other studies have found that muscle force and functional capacity benefits in the elderly can be achieved when exercise is combined with Omega-3 Fish Oil (FO). In research conducted in Brazil at Paraná Federal University, it was found that age-related muscle decline can be reversed, attenuated, or both through strength training, when taken with FO that is rich in Omega-3s, which may enhance the benefits of training. Previously, the effects of fish oil on exercise had not been investigated.

Forty-five women (aged 64 ± 1.4 y) were randomly assigned to 3 groups. One group performed strength training only (ST group) for 90 days, whereas the others performed the same strength-training program and received FO supplementation (2 g/d) for 90 days (STFO90) or for 150 days (STFO150. Muscle strength and functional capacity were assessed before and after the training period.

No differences in the pre-training period were found between groups for any of the variables. The peak torque and rate of torque development for all muscles (knee flexor and extensor, plantar and dorsiflexor) increased from pre- to post-training in all groups. However, the effect was greater in the ST90 and ST150 groups than in the ST group. The activation level and electromechanical delay of the muscles changed from pre- to post-training only for the STFO90 and STFO150 groups. Chair-rising performance in the FO groups was higher than in the ST group. Strength training increased muscle strength in elderly women. The inclusion of FO supplementation caused greater improvements in muscle strength and functional capacity.


  1. Rodacki CL, Rodacki AL, Pereira G, Naliwaiko K, Coelho I, Pequito D, Fernandes LC. Fish-oil supplementation enhances the effects of strength training in elderly women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Feb;95(2):428-36.

The Cost of Sarcopenia

Once again, the pace of muscle loss is a natural (but not inevitable) part of aging, and researchers have estimated that, after the age of 50, we lose 1-2% of our muscles each year. Strength declines as well, at a rate of 1.5% per year beginning at 50 years and accelerating to 3% after the age of 60. This does not need to be.

According to a monograph from the US Dairy Export Council, the direct health care cost attributable to sarcopenia were estimated to be $18.5 billion in 2000 in the US, a number that represented about 1.5% of health care expenditures for that year.

How Much Omega-3s did the Subjects take?

In the study, participants were randomly assigned to receive either Omega-3s capsules, consisting of 1.86 g per day of EPA and 1.5 grams per day of DHA] or control placebo. This is equivalent to the Omega-3 content of 0.88 lb of freshwater fatty fish, which one would need to eat every day!

The Same or Greater Effects than Testosterone, Growth Hormone or DHEA

From the paper:

Changes in muscle mass and function induced by [Omega-3] therapy in our subjects were less than those reported with exercise training, but the same or greater than those achieved with testosterone, growth-hormone, or dehydroepiandrosterone therapy in older adults and clearly clinically relevant,” wrote Dr Smith and his co-authors [Emphasis added]. “The difference in muscle volume between [omega-3] and control groups at 6 months was about 3.5%, and the difference in muscle strength was about 6%, suggesting that 6 months of [Omega-3] therapy can prevent 2 to 3 years of normal age-associated losses in muscle mass (approx. 0.5–1.0%/y) and function (approx. 2–3%/y) [Emphasis added].

According to senior author, explains Dr. Bettina Mittendorfer, “The study indicates that dietary supplementation with marine [Omega-3s] has significant anabolic and, even more importantly, function-enhancing effects on muscle in older adults. … This is an important development and has direct clinical relevance, as currently, besides vitamin D, there are no treatments good enough for the prevention and treatment of sarcopenia aside from regular exercise, which is difficult to adhere to especially in older people [Emphasis added].”5

Most People Don’t Get Nearly Enough Omega-3s

Commenting on the paper, Dr. Manfred Eggersdorfer, senior vice president, nutrition, science and advocacy at DSM and professor for healthy aging at Groningen University said, “Omega-3 is a safe and effective therapy to prevent aging-associated decline in muscle mass and function. … Having meals with oily fish twice a week—such as salmon or sardines—provides a healthy dose of Omega-3, but most adults don’t get nearly enough in their diets due to changes in modern eating habits. Taking purified, concentrated Omega-3 EPA/DHA supplements and enriched foods are great ways of ensuring a healthy and consistent daily dose [Emphasis added].”5

But the participants in the study weren’t eating the equivalent of 0.44 to 0.88 pounds of oily fish per day. That’s up to 6 pounds of fish per week, a staggering amount! They were taking an equivalent amount of Omega-3s as supplements.

While the mechanism of action has not been elucidated, the researchers noted that it probably involved alterations in both anabolic and catabolic pathways.

To repeat: the difference in muscle volume between the Omega-3 and control groups at six months was ~3.5% and the differences in muscle strength was ~6%, meaning that six months of Omega-3 therapy can prevent 2-3 years of the normal age-associated losses in muscle mass (~0.5-1.0% per year) and function (~2-3% per year). Omega-3 supplements may represent the biggest bang for your buck.


  1. Li K, Huang T, Zheng J, Wu K, Li D. Effect of Marine-Derived n-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids on C-Reactive Protein, Interleukin 6 and Tumor Necrosis Factor α: A Meta-Analysis. PLos One. 2014 Feb 5;9(2):e88103, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0088103.
  2. Smith GI, Julliand S, Reeds DN, Sinacore DR, Klein S, Mittendorfer B. Fish oil-derived n-3 PUFA therapy increases muscle mass and function in healthy older adults.
  3. Am J Clin Nutr.
  4. 2015 May 20. pii: ajcn105833. [Epub ahead of print]
  5. Landi F, Cruz-Jentoft AJ, Liperoti R, Russo A, Giovannini S, Tosato M, Capoluongo E, Bernabei R, Onder G. Sarcopenia and mortality risk in frail older persons aged 80 years and older: results from ilSIRENTE study.
  6. Age Ageing.
  7. 2013 Mar;42(2):203-9.
  8. Daniells S. Omega-3s may slow age-associated muscle loss: RCT data. May 22, 2015. Accessed June 25, 2015.
  9. DSM highlights a new study: fish oil derived omega-3s increase muscle mass and function in healthy, older adultsMay 29, 2015.