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Randomized Controlled Trial
. 2015 Jul;102(1):115-22.
doi: 10.3945/ajcn.114.105833. Epub 2015 May 20.

Fish Oil-Derived n-3 PUFA Therapy Increases Muscle Mass and Function in Healthy Older Adults

Free PMC article
Randomized Controlled Trial

Fish Oil-Derived n-3 PUFA Therapy Increases Muscle Mass and Function in Healthy Older Adults

Gordon I Smith et al. Am J Clin Nutr. .
Free PMC article


Background: Age-associated declines in muscle mass and function are major risk factors for an impaired ability to carry out activities of daily living, 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.

Objective: We evaluated the efficacy of fish oil-derived n-3 (ω-3) PUFA therapy to slow the age-associated loss of muscle mass and function.

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

Results: Forty-four subjects completed the study [29 subjects (73%) in the n-3 PUFA group; 15 subjects (75%) in the control group]. Compared with the control group, 6 mo of n-3 PUFA therapy increased thigh muscle volume (3.6%; 95% CI: 0.2%, 7.0%), handgrip strength (2.3 kg; 95% CI: 0.8, 3.7 kg), and 1-RM muscle strength (4.0%; 95% CI: 0.8%, 7.3%) (all P < 0.05) and tended to increase average isokinetic power (5.6%; 95% CI: -0.6%, 11.7%; P = 0.075).

Conclusion: Fish oil-derived n-3 PUFA 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. This study was registered at as NCT01308957.

Keywords: aging; muscle mass; muscle power; muscle strength; omega-3 fatty acids.


Flow of study participants. DVT, deep vein thrombosis.
Changes (95% CIs) in thigh muscle volume, handgrip strength, and 1-RM muscle strength in the n–3 PUFA and control groups. Data represent average absolute and relative changes from baseline after 3 mo (white bars) and 6 mo (gray bars) of treatment with corn oil (control) and fish oil–derived n–3 PUFA and treatment effects at 6 mo (black bars). n = 15 in the control group (all figures); n = 29 in the n–3 PUFA group for thigh muscle volume and n = 28 for handgrip strength and 1-RM muscle strength because one subject could not complete the tests because of shoulder and arm pain at 3 and 6 mo. 1-RM strength represents the composite score (i.e., sum of all 1-RMs) for the following exercises: leg press, chest press, knee extension, and knee flexion. An ANCOVA with the baseline value as a covariate was used to evaluate the effect of n–3 PUFA treatment on thigh muscle volume, which was measured only at baseline and 6 mo of treatment; *significantly different from the control group, P < 0.05. A linear mixed model ANOVA (with raw data collected at baseline and 3 and 6 mo) was used to evaluate differences in handgrip strength and 1-RM muscle strength between control and n–3 PUFA groups. Significant group × time interactions were identified, and post hoc analyses revealed the following: **significantly different from the corresponding value before treatment, P < 0.05. 1-RM, one-repetition maximum.

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