Fish oil supplements are often used as a way to boost health, especially for people who don’t regularly include fish in their diet. And, why not? They are a powerful source of omega-3 fatty acids, including EPA and DHA, both of which play large roles in health.
For that matter, fish oil supplementation has been associated with various direct benefits, including the treatment and prevention of depression, helping to reduce dry eyes and lowering heart disease risk.
But, as great as these benefits may be, they aren’t the only reason to consider taking fish oil. Instead, recent research suggests that fish oil and muscle building may be connected. This makes fish oil very relevant for fighting muscle loss, especially in the older population.
Age Related Muscle Loss and Health
Although muscle loss can happen at any age (particularly if you are inactive), it is a particularly significant problem for seniors. Losing muscle in this way is called sarcopenia and it is strongly associated with aging.
Additionally, older adults often lose some of the strength in their muscles (dynapenia). The two mechanisms are related to one another, with larger declines in muscle strength being related to a more rapid reduction in muscle mass (1).
This pattern makes it critical to maintain both your muscle mass and strength, especially as you age.
But, this is where it gets complicated.
For one thing, the actual mechanism of sarcopenia isn’t completely understood (2). So, we don’t entirely know why or how older people are losing muscle mass – and this makes the issue harder to fight.
Muscle Mass and Health
The loss of muscle mass can be somewhat scary, especially if it leads to a reduction in what you can do. But, despite this, many people don’t take muscle loss seriously.
One reason is simply that you don’t need a large amount of muscle to do your daily activities. As such, it’s easy to overlook any loss and feel that you are healthy regardless.
For that matter, some people (particularly women) are often unwilling to work on building muscle because they are afraid they’ll end up ‘buff’ or ‘ripped’. That’s not the case though and you can easily increase your muscle mass without looking like a bodybuilder in the process.
In reality, having sufficient muscle is critical for health – both directly and indirectly.
For example, there is a significant association between muscles and longevity, meaning that having a good body composition may mean that you live longer.
Indeed, people with a relatively high body fat to muscle ratio are at risk of health conditions like diabetes and heart disease (3,4,5). This is true regardless of whether you are overweight or thin (6).
On the other hand, muscle loss contributes to its own problems. This includes the way that people often end up with less strength and stamina, along with increased frailty. For older adults, these issues can increase the risk of falls and fractures (7). This is a topic that the site Easy Health Options discusses as well.
In many cases, muscle loss also makes people less willing to do things. After all, if you were low in strength and stamina, you could find yourself canceling social engagements and other activities. As a result, this type of muscle loss can potentially contribute to isolation, which also has health implications for seniors (8).
These patterns all suggest that maintaining muscle mass is critical for health and wellbeing.
Fish Oil and Muscle Building
Because the cause of age related muscle loss isn’t fully understood, finding solutions can seem challenging. But, there are various effective ways of increasing your muscles, including having a sufficient protein intake and being involved in resistance exercise (9,10,11).
In fact, not getting enough protein is a key reason why some older women have problems with muscle function (12).
But, as I mentioned earlier, there is also an interesting connection between fish oil and muscles. This topic was the subject of fairly recent research and reinforces the importance of fish oil supplements.
The study itself examined 50 older men and women, with an average age of around 70. The participants were split into two groups. One received 3 g of fish oil supplements per day and the other received 3 g of safflower oil (which was the control).
The study was conducted for 18 weeks, during which time participants went through lower limb resistance training twice per week.
At the end of the study, the authors found that the fish oil supplement group had significantly improved muscle quality and function – but only for females. This suggests that fish oil can augment the effects of resistance exercise for older women.
A key limitation is that this study is on the small side, with relatively few participants. As a result, more research is needed to know how strong the effect is.
But, even this single study is reason enough to try fish oil along with resistance exercise. After all, fish oil itself is well-tolerated and there has been extensive research into fish oil benefits. For that matter, this is one of the few supplements that is consistently recommended.
The site Examine.com provides a detailed examination of the evidence for and against fish oil. Their analysis is a great way to see the current status of research.
Effectively Building Muscle in Older Women
The association between fish oil and muscle building is an interesting one, especially for older women. However, the research doesn’t suggest that you can simply take fish oil supplements and be done with it.
Instead, you do need to focus on resistance exercise and on what you’re eating.
For some people, this can be difficult, especially as appetite often decreases as you age. Likewise, resistance exercises can sometimes be tough if you have a disability or a health condition. Still, with enough planning, you can safely exercise at any age, as Kapok Multicultural Caregiving highlights.
If you do struggle with appetite, a simple way to increase your protein intake is through the use of protein shakes.
Doctors often recommend products like Ensure. But, those aren’t as great as they seem. Instead, most variations are fairly high in sugar and don’t actually contain all that much protein.
There are also many different protein shake recipes that are healthy and taste great.
If you do specifically want something prepackaged, then one brand to consider is Premier Protein. Making your own shake is always going to be better but there are cases where having something already made is beneficial. There are also dietary changes that you can make to increase protein, including eating more red meat.
The final thing to consider is the fish oil itself.
Fish oil supplements are powerful for health and they may help you to build or maintain your muscle mass. However, finding the right supplement is critical. After all, different products vary in their quality and in the specific concentrations of fish oil they contain.
To find good options, check out this list of 8 high quality fish oil brands.
The study at hand considered 3 grams of fish oil per day, which is higher than most supplements available. However, multiple options on that list offer more than 2,000 mg (2 grams) per serving and you could always take one and a half servings to get the right dose.
With that in mind, one particularly good brand is BioScience Nutrition and you would get 3 grams of fish oil from four pills per day.
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