Krill Oil Boosts Muscle Function and Size in Older Adults

Researchers know that omega-3 fatty acids play a critical role in healthy aging. Now a new study published in Clinical Nutrition reveals that krill oil — rich in EPA and DHA fatty acids — improves skeletal muscle function and size in seniors.  

“As humans age, we experience a slow deterioration of our muscle mass and function. Previous research has indicated that EPA and DHA supplementation can positively impact muscle protein synthesis, muscle volume, and strength, and interestingly this new study also suggests that choline in krill oil may have additional beneficial effects on skeletal muscle metabolism and health. This study strengthens the hypothesis that daily supplementation of krill oil for an extended period can improve thigh muscle strength, grip strength, and muscle thickness in healthy, older adults,” says Line Johnsen, VP Science & Regulatory Affairs, Aker BioMarine.

Study Details

Conducted at the Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences, University of Glasgow, the randomized, double-blind, controlled trial involved 102 healthy men and women ages 65 and up. The subjects were not particularly active, reporting less than one hour of exercise per week at the start of the study. 

Study participants were given either a placebo or 4 grams of Superba Krill Oil (Aker BioMarine) daily. Baseline measurements were also taken, including thigh muscle strength, grip strength, and thigh muscle thickness.

Six months of daily krill oil supplementation (4 grams daily) produced statistically and clinically significant improvements in muscle function and size among participants (when compared to baseline), say the authors. Key findings include:

  • Increase in thigh muscle strength (9.3%), grip strength (10.9%), and thigh muscle thickness (3.5%), relative to the control group.
  • Increase in red blood cell fatty acid profile for EPA 214%, DHA 36%, and the omega-3 index 61%, relative to the control group.
  • Increased M-Wave of 17% (relative to the control group), which shows the excitability of muscle membrane within the muscle.

“The current study is the first study to demonstrate a beneficial effect of krill oil supplementation on muscle size and strength in older adults. The magnitude of effects we observed can be compared to those previously reported in a smaller cohort where 6 months of fish oil supplementation resulted in a treatment effect on grip strength of 2.3 kg, with the current study finding a treatment effect of 3.4 kg with krill oil,” said study authors.

Conclusion

In summary, in this double-blind randomized-controlled trial of relatively large size and long duration, we have demonstrated that krill oil supplementation results in increases in muscle function, excitability, and size, although functional abilities were not affected, in healthy older adults. This indicates that LCn-3 PUFA could be an effective preventive strategy to counter the age-related decline in muscle mass and function. Further work is needed to determine if LCn-3 PUFA can be an effective treatment in people with sarcopenia and/or frailty. 

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