By Gina Maffey
Popeye may have benefited from eating spinach but it turns out that fish oil is the supplement that could keep us stronger for longer, the British Science Festival has been told.
A pilot study conducted by Dr Stuart Gray at the University of Aberdeen looked at the benefits of taking fish oil combined with short sessions of resistance exercise for females, aged over 65 years, over a 12-week period.
He found that in the control group using a placebo treatment, there was an 11 per cent increase in muscle strength, but that in the group who took fish oil supplements muscle strength increased by 20 per cent.
Loss of muscle strength is part of a natural aging process known as sarcopenia where an individual loses 0.5-2 per cent of their muscle mass each year.
As well as affecting strength, loss of mass makes it harder for people to move, making everyday tasks more difficult. There is also an increase in the infiltration of fat in the muscle and decreased insulin sensitivity, which can lead to secondary problems such as type 2 diabetes.
There are no defining criteria for sarcopenia, but treatment predominantly occurs in the form of physiotherapy when the condition is more advanced.
Although no figures are available for the UK it is known that treatment of sarcopenia is estimated to cost the USA £12 billion a year. Dr Gray hopes that new research will allow intervention preventing the necessity for treatment.
In a broader study to begin this year the research group will be looking at how the condition presents differently in men and women in an attempt to get aging muscle in both men and women reacting more similarly to younger muscle.
Dr Gray said they hoped to demonstrate the health benefits of incorporating fish oils into the diet alongside a simple resistance exercise regime for people aged 65 and over.
Unlike more intensive treatments at later stages of sarcopenia, these are small changes that individuals can incorporate into their everyday life in order to improve their muscle strength in later life.
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