Fish Oil Helps Protect Against Muscle Mass Loss
BY STEVE BORN
The research is in its infancy, and additional studies are certainly needed to provide more-definitive answers. Still, the results of a recent study on fish oil supplementation are already creating a lot of excitement.
20 healthy women participated in this latest study headed up Dr. Chris McGlory from McMaster University, Ontario, Canada. The women, between the ages of 19 and 31 years old, were described as “recreationally active,” meaning that while they were physically active, they only participated in structured exercise two days per week.
The women were divided into two groups: one received an omega-3 fatty acid fish oil supplement (active group) and the other a sunflower oil supplement (control group). Neither group knew what supplement they were taking. Women in both groups consumed the supplements for four weeks, during which all of them were required to spend the first two weeks wearing a brace, thus immobilizing one of their legs.
During this two-week period, researchers provided the women with all of their food to ensure that each one received the same amount of protein based on their body weight on a daily basis (1.0 gram of protein per kilogram of body mass). After the immobilization period was over the participants returned to normal activity for two weeks.
Researchers evaluated a number of variables—leg muscle volume, strength, mass, and protein synthesis (via blood and skeletal muscle samples)—at the start of the study, immediately after the two-week immobilization period, and at the end of the four-week study.
The women in the group taking the fish oil supplements lost significantly less muscle mass during the two weeks of immobilization compared with the women taking the sunflower oil supplement. Perhaps more impressively, while women in both groups experienced a decline in muscle volume, only the women in the fish oil group regained full skeletal muscle volume by the end of the study.
Dr. McGlory states: "We are the first to show that n-3 fatty acid [fish oil] supplementation attenuates decrements in skeletal muscle size in response to unilateral leg immobilization in women," and that the findings “highlight the potential efficacy of n-3 fatty acid intake to mitigate disuse-induced skeletal muscle atrophy."
Because of the narrow scope of this particular study—involving only a small number of younger women—the researchers mentioned that their findings could not yet be applied to men, or to older men and women, and that further studies are needed.
Still, the researchers believe that omega-3 supplementation via fish oil may be an effective way to protect against muscle mass loss, while also helping promote the rebuilding and restoration of muscle during times of atrophy, such as during injury and/or surgery.
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Research has already shown that supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids benefit numerous areas in human health; we may now be able to add “protects against muscle mass loss” to that list of benefits!
REFERENCE: Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation attenuates skeletal muscle disuse atrophy during two weeks of unilateral leg immobilization in healthy young women. Chris McGlory, Stefan H. M. Gorissen, Michael Kamal, Ravninder Bahniwal, Amy J. Hector, Steven K. Baker, Adrian Chabowski, and Stuart M. Phillips. Published Online:10 Jan 2019 https://doi.org/10.1096/fj.201801857RRR