Can Omega 3 Supplements Prevent Muscle Loss Due to Aging?

omega 3 sarcopeniaSarcopenia, or the loss of muscle mass with aging, is a common problem among older people. Muscle mass starts to decline after the age of thirty and by the time a person reaches their twilight years, the loss of muscle can be substantial. This decline in muscle mass directly contributes to frailty in older people and increases their risk of falling and breaking a hip, a situation that could be fatal. It also makes it more difficult for seniors to safely carry out their daily activities. Fortunately, regular strength-training and resistance exercise helps to offset some of their loss of muscle mass with aging. Now, a new study shows that supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids could help too.

Aging and Sarcopenia: Can Omega-3 Supplements Help?

Researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine gave sixteen healthy seniors omega-3 fatty acids or corn oil for two months. During this time, they measured the effects these oils had on muscle protein synthesis. The results? The seniors who got the omega-3 fatty acids had greater synthesis of muscle proteins than the group who received the corn oil. These seniors didn’t take part in regular exercise or resistance training, which could have altered the degree of muscle protein synthesis – or the results of the study.

Omega- 3s for Loss of Muscle Mass with Aging?

This was a very small study, but if further studies confirm these findings, taking omega-3s could be a safe and inexpensive way to ward off sarcopenia in older people. Used in combination with resistance training, it could be a way to reduce frailty and the risk of injury. Omega-3s also have heart-healthy benefits that would be a positive for some seniors, although older people taking blood thinners shouldn’t take omega-3s.

Some studies also show that low vitamin D levels contribute to sarcopenia and loss of muscle mass with aging. It’s a good idea for all seniors to get a vitamin D level checked periodically since the majority of seniors are deficient, and some studies show that supplementing with vitamin D reduces the risk of falls.

Aging and Sarcopenia: The Bottom Line?

More research is needed before omega-3s become standard therapy for sarcopenia. Until then, seniors should get their vitamin D level checked and take part in regular resistance training. Studies show that even very old people can get benefits from resistance exercise. It’s still one of the most effective ways to prevent sarcopenia.

References: “Dietary omega-3 fatty acid supplementation increases the rate of muscle protein synthesis in older adults: a randomized controlled trial.”
Clinical Endocrinology. Volume 73, Issue 5, pages 581–587, November 2010. "Vitamin D and the Elderly: Vitamin D, Falls and Fractures"