Taking omega-3 supplements could improve muscle function in older women, potentially preventing unnecessary falls and loss of independence, according to UK researchers.
Their study found that supplementing the diet of older women with 3g of fish oil increases their muscle function when combined with resistance exercise training over 18 weeks.
“These findings provide important information for nutritional guidelines in older people”
The study, led by the universities of Glasgow and Aberdeen, found the increases for participants given fish oil were greater than those given a 3g safflower oil placebo for comparison.
Published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, it involved 50 men and women, with an average age of 70, who were randomised to the fish oil intervention or the placebo.
Before and after the exercise training programme, researchers measured muscle size, using MRI, and muscle function, using a testing dynamometer, and calculated muscle quality.
As expected by the researchers, the resistance exercise training increased muscle size, function and quality in all groups of participants.
In men who were taking the fish oil supplements there were no extra gains in muscle function or size observed over the 18-week intervention period.
However, in women, those taking fish oil their muscle function, but not size, increased to a greater extent compared to those in the placebo group.
For women in the placebo group exercise training resulted in an average strength increase of 16%, but when combined with an intake of fish oil it improvement increased to an average of 34%.
Fish oil pills ‘improve muscle function’ in older women
Study author Dr Stuart Gray said: “These findings provide important information for nutritional guidelines in older people where policy makers may want to consider recommendations for fish oil supplements to be consumed by older women.
“Why men do not see the same benefit as women is important to understand and the underlying mechanisms need to be studied,” he added.
The researchers highlighted that the greater increase in muscle function noted in women was independent of changes in muscle size with fish oil, as it was muscle quality that improved.
Dr Gray added: “With the percentage of people aged over 65 predicted to rise from 17%, of the total population in 2010, to 23% in 2035, it is crucial to develop effective treatments for the age-related loss of muscle function.
“Findings of a benefit in women are particularly important as women tend to live around four years longer than men and cross the “disability threshold”, where functional abilities are lost, 10 years earlier than men,” he said.