Older women may be able to boost their muscle strength by adding fish oil supplements to their exercise routine, a small clinical trial suggests.
Researchers found that three months of strength training helped increase muscle strength among 45 healthy women in their 60s. But those who used fish oil at the same time had somewhat greater gains.
But whether older women should run out to buy fish oil for the sake of their muscles remains to be seen. It's not clear whether the extra strength gain would be meaningful in a woman's life -- and, therefore, worth the cost and potential side effects of fish oil pills.
The findings are intriguing and deserve further study, say the researchers.
Fish oil, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, is probably best known for its link to heart health. But there's also evidence that fish oil can improve nerve function and the ability of heart muscle to contract. So it's reasonable to speculate that fish oil could boost muscles' response to strengthening exercises.
To study the question, the researchers randomly assigned 45 older women to one of three exercise groups: In one, the women performed strengthening exercise three times a week for three months; the other two groups followed the same regimen, but also took fish oil (2 grams per day), either starting on the same day as their exercise program, or starting two months beforehand.
On average, all three groups increased their muscle strength. But the change was greater in the two fish-oil groups.
On top of that, only women who used fish oil showed changes in nerve activity in the muscles. But exactly what that all means for women's well-being is not clear. Whether any of that could translate into better fitness, a lower risk of falls or other health benefits is unknown for now.
A question with any supplement study is whether users were "deficient" in a nutrient -- omega-3 fats, in this case -- to begin with. If so, the supplement might have brought them to a more "normal" level, and the benefit of a supplement beyond a healthful, balanced diet would be unclear.
While fish oil is generally considered safe at recommended doses, it can have side effects; the more common side effects include bad breath, heartburn, nausea and loose stools. At higher doses -- more than 3 grams per day -- fish oil might interfere with blood clotting and raise the risk of internal bleeding. People using medications -- as older adults are -- should also check with their doctor about possible interactions.
SOURCE: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, January 4, 2012
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