Guest article from Craig Weatherby, health and science reporter for Vital Choice, Inc
Fish Oil Boosted Women’s Power
Older women gained more strength from exercise when taking omega-3s; Results echo findings in younger people.
by Craig Weatherby
Bone and muscle weakness is common among older women … and to a lesser but substantial extent, men as well.
Diet and exercise can help prevent or slow age-related declines in bone and muscle strength … two critical factors for avoiding crippling falls and limits on physical activity and capacity (Misic MM et al. 2009; Bento PCB et al. 2010).
A study we reported last year indicates that omega-3s from fish and fish oil can enhance efforts to build the strength of bones and muscle among healthy young and middle-aged adults.
And the new findings suggest that the same is true in older people, judging by the results of a controlled clinical trial from Brazil.
Although the new study was small, the advantage seen in those who took fish oil while engaged in strength training was substantial, and more than a statistical anomaly.
This Brazilian trial is the first to show that supplemental fish oil can enhance muscle activation and force among elderly women undergoing strength training.
Brazilian trial finds fish oil enhanced exercising women’s strength gains
A team of researchers from Parana Federal University recruited women aged about 64 (plus or minus 1.4 years) and assigned them all to a strength training program (Rodacki CL et al. 2012).
The 45 participants – who were not engaged in any other regular exercise during the year before the study began – were divided into three groups:
- Control Group took no fish oil during 90 days of strength training.
- Fish Oil Group #1 took two grams of fish oil per day during 90 days of strength training.
- Fish Oil Group #2 took two grams of fish oil per day for 60 days prior to the study, and during 90 days of training.
Each one gram (1000mg) capsule of fish oil contained about 0.4 grams of omega-3 EPA and 0.3 grams of omega-3 DHA … which are modest amounts.
After 90 days of strength training, all 45 women showed gains in muscle power, measured as muscle torque and the rate of torque development.
(Muscular torque is the force of a muscle contraction, and is a key measure of the force a person can exert.)
Before and after the study period, the scientists gave all of the participants four tests of strength: “foot up and go,” “sit and reach,” “chair-rising,” and “6-minute walk”.
After 90 days of training, no differences were seen in three of these tests.
However, the two fish oil groups both showed about 50 percent greater strength in the chair-rising test, compared with the control group.
(This test, also called chair-standing, measures the number of times you can come to a full standing position in 30 seconds while your arms are crossed over your chest.)
Interestingly, the researchers detected no additional strength benefit from a longer period of supplementation with fish oil.
It seems likely that the observed strength benefit stems from raising your cellular levels of omega-3s to a certain level, after which further increases provide no more benefit.
Both fish oil groups showed substantially higher levels of omega-3s in their cell membranes at the end of the trial, compared with the control group. Fish Oil Group #2, which took the omega-3 supplements the longest, had the largest increase … their EPA levels rose by 112 percent and their DHA levels rose by 50 percent.
The researchers stressed the practical implications of the strength advantages seen in all of the women, which were greater in the two fish oil groups (Rodacki CL et al. 2012):
- “The improved RTD [rate of torque development] reflects improved muscle contractility [torque], which is an important measure for the elderly due to its contribution to several daily life tasks and its relation to the ability to recover from a slip or trip, preventing a fall.”
- “Strength training has been shown to facilitate muscle protein anabolism, energy expenditure, and improved appetite and food intake in elderly people.”
And as they wrote, “Thus [fish oil] may be an attractive supplement for the elderly to maximize their neuromuscular responses to strength training, which is important to life quality.” (Rodacki CL et al. 2012)
Based on the results of other studies, the Brazilian team proposed that fish oil may work in at least two ways:
- Alter the fluidity of muscle cell membranes.
- Increase muscle cells’ sensitivity to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which facilitates fast communication between nerves and muscles and accelerates muscle contraction (torque).
Clearly, older people can gain a great deal from strength training … with or without fish oil.
But it seems that omega-3s enhance some of those gains, and may make exercise more rewarding in a pretty short period.
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- Bento PCB, Pereira G, Ugrinowitsch C, Rodacki ALF. Peak torque and rate of torque development in elderly with and without fall history. Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon) 2010;25:450–4.
- Alves RV, Mota J, Costa MC, Alves JGB. Physical fitness and elderly health effects of hydrogymnastics. Rev Bras Med Esporte 2004;10:31–7.
- Misic MM, Valentine RJ, Rosengren KS,Woods JA, Evans EM. Impact of training modality on strength and physical function in older adults. Gerontol 2009;55:411–6.
- Skelton DA, Greig CA, Davies JM, Young A. Strength, power and related functional ability of healthy people aged 65–89 years. Age Ageing 1994;23:371–7.
- Rodacki CL, Rodacki AL, Pereira G, Naliwaiko K, Coelho I, Pequito D, Fernandes LC. Fish-oil supplementation enhances the effects of strength training in elderly women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Jan 4. [Epub ahead of print]