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PUFAs good for muscle strength in the elderly, but relationship complex: study

Posted:  Friday, November 21, 2014

The benefits of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) seem to go beyond heart health and there could be one more reason to keep track of the blood levels of these fatty acids, particularly in the elderly. Findings from a recent study revealed that increased levels of total PUFAs could result in bigger muscles and better knee extension in the elderly.

Published in the Journal of Nutrition, the age, gene/environment susceptibility-Reykjavik study, is one of the first population-based studies that evaluated the association between circulating PUFA levels and comprehensive cross-sectional and longitudinal muscle parameters. These muscle parameters are important indicators of physical health among the elderly.

The study evaluated 836 elderly individuals aged 66 to 96 years and followed them up for 5.2 years. Analysis of their data revealed that high blood PUFAs were linked to bigger muscle and greater knee extension strength in the elderly.

Further analysis to understand the association between individual fatty acids and muscle parameters revealed their complex relationship. Higher levels of arachidonic and linoleic acid were linked with smaller muscles and lower intramuscular fat tissue, respectively. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) was linked with higher intramuscular fat tissue, whereas higher alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) was associated with greater knee extension strength.

Surprisingly, unlike previous studies, this study did not reveal any benefits of fish-oil consumption on muscle protein synthesis. The researchers attributed this lack of effect to the already high baseline omega-3 levels in the study population.

Commenting independently on the mixed results of the study, Harry Rice, the VP of GOED (Global Organization for EPA and DHA (docosahaexanoic acid)-Omega-3s, said, “Given the cardioprotective benefits associated with EPA and DHA, not to mention a long history of safe use and the potential to slow down sarcopaenia, it makes good sense to increase one’s omega-3 intake through diet and supplementation.”

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