It has been found that women aged over 65, who received omega-3 fatty acids gained almost twice as much muscle strength following exercise than those taking olive oil. According to a study, moderate exercise and a regular intake of oily fish fatty acids, keeps elderly immobility at bay.
The study linked diets high in omega-3, commonly found in oily fish such as mackerel and sardines to potential health benefits, such as a lower risk of coronary heart disease, through the process, known as sarcopenia , which can result in frailty and immobility in old people.
According to Dr Stuart Gray from the University of Aberdeen, the cost of sarcopenia is immense; either in direct nursing and care costs or in hospital admissions through falls. The rate of muscle loss is dictated to some extent by lifestyle, consumption of a low protein diet and a sedentary lifestyle all known to exacerbate muscle loss. Previous studies demonstrated that livestock fed on omega 3-rich diets had increased muscle bulk.
This prompted Gray to investigate whether these fatty acids could help reverse sarcopenia in the elderly. In his initial studies, he showed by MRI imaging that middle-aged rats taking fish oil supplement had a lower loss of lean mass than counterparts fed a normal diet. Gray recruited 14 women aged over 65 years and asked both groups to undergo a 12 week exercise programme consisting of two 30-minute sessions of standard leg muscle exercises. Half the women were given the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, whist the other half received an olive oil placebo (negative control).
The results were compelling. Women receiving olive oil increased their muscle mass by 11 per cent, whilst those receiving EPA and DHA showed a 20 per cent increase, a statistically significant improvement. But as Gray was quick to point out, not all fish oil supplements contain beneficial amounts of these fatty acids. “One of the problems with a lot of these supplements is that the amount of EPA varies.
“A capsule containing one gram of fish oil might only contain 100 milligrams (mg) of EPA and some might contain 400”.
His advice for anyone wanting to improve their intake of dietary EPA and DHA was to take a supplement that contained the highest levels of these two fatty acids.
Alternatively, half of the average portion of oily fish contains equivalent amounts of beneficial EPA and DHA as those used in the trial. Previous research has shown that men and women differ in their ability to synthesise new protein and also in their response to exercise.
“Older women have similar levels of protein synthesis to younger women whereas older men have lower levels compared to younger men.” “Older men adapt to exercise and increase their protein synthesis. Older women don’t do this to a great extent, although their basal levels of synthesis are higher,” Gray explained.