Supplements with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid from fish may help slow the inevitable decline in muscle mass and strength that occurs with age, according to a recent small study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
For the research, published in July 2015, 44 healthy men and women, between the ages of 60 and 85, were randomly assigned to take four 1-gram fish oil capsules or the same number of placebo capsules (which contained corn oil) daily for six months. Before and after treatment, participants were evaluated for muscle mass and strength.
At the end of the study, the fish oil group had significantly greater increases in thigh muscle size than the placebo group, as well as greater handgrip and lower- and upper-body strength. The fish oil group also tended to show more leg muscle power, as measured by knee bends and extensions.
These findings may not apply to over-the-counter supplements because those used in the study were the prescription version called Lovaza. In addition, the study was small, so the findings need to be confirmed in a larger investigation.
In the meantime, one of the best ways to preserve muscle mass and strength—which is critical for preventing frailty, disability, and loss of independence—is to perform muscle-strengthening, or resistance, exercises regularly. Also eat fatty fish, such as salmon and sardines—it’s good for your heart, and it may help your other muscles, too.