Effects of Short-Term Docosahexaenoic Acid Supplementation on Markers of Inflammation after Eccentric Strength Exercise in Women

J Sports Sci Med. 2016 Feb 23;15(1):176-83. eCollection 2016 Mar.


The omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) has anti-inflammatory and anti-nociceptive (pain inhibiting) effects. Because strenuous exercise often results in local inflammation and pain, we hypothesized that DHA supplementation attenuates the rise in markers of local muscle inflammation and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) that occur after eccentric strength exercise. Twenty-seven, healthy women (33 ± 2 y, BMI 23.1±1.0 kg·m(-2)) were randomized to receive 9d of 3000 mg/d DHA or placebo in a double-blind fashion. On day 7 of the supplementation period, the participants performed 4 sets of maximal-effort eccentric biceps curl exercise. Before and 48h after the eccentric exercise, markers of inflammation were measured including measures of muscle soreness (10-point visual analog pain scale, VAS), swelling (arm circumference), muscle stiffness (active and passive elbow extension), skin temperature, and salivary C-reactive protein (CRP) concentrations. As expected, muscle soreness and arm circumference increased while active and passive elbow extension decreased. The increase in soreness was 23% less in the DHA group (48h increase in VAS soreness ratings: 4.380.4 vs. 5.600.5, p=0.02). Furthermore, the number of subjects who were able to achieve full active elbow extension 48h after eccentric exercise was greater in the DHA group (71% vs. 15%, p = 0.006), indicating significantly less muscle stiffness. No between-group differences were observed for passive elbow extension (p = 0.78) or arm swelling (p = 0.75). Skin temperature and salivary CRP concentrations did not change from baseline to 48h after exercise in either group. These findings indicate that short-term DHA supplementation reduces exercise-induced muscle soreness and stiffness. Therefore, in addition to other health benefits that n-3 fatty acids have been associated with, DHA supplementation could be beneficial for improving tolerance to new and/or strenuous exercise programs and thereby might facilitate better training adaptations and exercise adherence. Key pointsSeven days of 3000 mg/day supplementation with algae-derived docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) attenuates the delayed onset muscle soreness and stiffness, and protects against the loss of joint range of motion that is caused by strenuous eccentric exercise.This benefit was observed in women, and supports the findings from other studies that were conducted on men or a combination of men and womenThe benefits from algae-derived DHA appear to be similar to those reported in other studies that used a combination of DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) derived from fish oilThe findings of better recovery from strenuous exercise with DHA supplementation, paired with other research which demonstrated that DHA and EPA protect against chronic diseases suggest that DHA is an attractive optionThese findings have relevance to athletic populations, in that DHA would be expected to facilitate recovery and allow for better performance during training and competition. However, DHA supplementation might also benefit non-athletic populations, such as individuals starting new exercise programs and patient populations that are prone to muscle soreness (e.g. physical therapy patients).

Keywords: Delayed-onset muscle soreness; fish oil; omega-3 fatty acids.