The Influence of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Skeletal Muscle Protein Turnover in Health, Disuse, and Disease

Front Nutr. 2019 Sep 6:6:144. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2019.00144. eCollection 2019.


Ingestion of omega-3 fatty acids is known to exert favorable health effects on a number of biological processes such as improved immune profile, enhanced cognition, and optimized neuromuscular function. Recently, data have emerged demonstrating a positive influence of omega-3 fatty acid intake on skeletal muscle. For instance, there are reports of clinically-relevant gains in muscle size and strength in healthy older persons with omega-3 fatty acid intake as well as evidence that omega-3 fatty acid ingestion alleviates the loss of muscle mass and prevents decrements in mitochondrial respiration during periods of muscle-disuse. Cancer cachexia that is characterized by a rapid involuntary loss of lean mass may also be attenuated by omega-3 fatty acid provision. The primary means by which omega-3 fatty acids positively impact skeletal muscle mass is via incorporation of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA; 20:5n-3) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA; 22:6n-3) into membrane phospholipids of the sarcolemma and intracellular organelles. Enrichment of EPA and DHA in these membrane phospholipids is linked to enhanced rates of muscle protein synthesis, decreased expression of factors that regulate muscle protein breakdown, and improved mitochondrial respiration kinetics. However, exactly how incorporation of EPA and DHA into phospholipid membranes alters these processes remains unknown. In this review, we discuss the interaction between omega-3 fatty acid ingestion and skeletal muscle protein turnover in response to nutrient provision in younger and older adults. Additionally, we examine the role of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation in protecting muscle loss during muscle-disuse and in cancer cachexia, and critically evaluate the molecular mechanisms that underpin the phenotypic changes observed in skeletal muscle with omega-3 fatty acid intake.

Keywords: Omega-3 fatty acid; inflammation; protein breakdown; protein synthesis; skeletal muscle.

Publication types

  • Review