EPA and DHA in exercise-induced neuromuscular damage


Dietary supplements are used by athletes in order to maintain good health, to ensure an adequate intake of specific nutrients and the provision of energy that might be difficult to achieve through food intake alone, to enhance sport performance, to alleviate musculoskeletal pain and to favor recovery after training. The practice of regular physical exercise has many health benefits and reduces the risk of suffering from several diseases, but exhaustive or unaccustomed exercise causes muscle fatigue and delayed onset muscle soreness (stiffness), and this results in decreased sporting performance.

Many studies have investigated EPA and DHA (both omega-3 fatty acids mainly contained in fatty fish and fish oil) in relation to such reactions and their effects on muscle damage and function have been evaluated by human and animal experiments:

  • EPA and DHA are known to improve fatigue recovery and endurance performance, and also help to maintain immune function. It is well established that dietary omega-3 fatty acids alters the fatty acid composition of immune cells; this could affect the function of these cells.
  • After eccentric contractions, decreased muscle strength, delayed muscle soreness (1-3 days after exercise), muscle swelling, and limited range of motion take place; these reactions cause discomfort and have a negative effect for continuing exercise and training. The intake of EPA and DHA may be important in reducing delayed onset muscle
  • Excessive muscular exercise including eccentric contractions causes muscle Supplementation of EPA and DHA seems to reduce the extent of swelling.
  • Regarding inflammatory response following eccentric contractions and running exercise, EPA and DHA supplementation can inhibit the elevation in levels inflammatory markers (which are also muscle damage markers) in the blood.
  • Nerve dysfunction is also induced by eccentric contractions; for instance, nerve conduction velocity decreases 1-2 days after eccentric contractions. Daily supplementation of EPA and DHA inhibits musculocutaneous nerve conduction velocity latency that occurs following eccentric contractions. Although this has been observed in only one study, it can be assumed that EPA and DHA protect neuromuscular
  • In terms of muscle function, it can be assumed that EPA and DHA are effective for neuromuscular adaptation after training. The exact mechanisms underlying this beneficial effect are unknown, but it is likely to be due to the incorporation of omega-3 fatty acids in the cells, particularly in the nerve and muscle.

Based on this information, it can be concluded that EPA and DHA have several positive roles for exercise-induced neuromuscular damage.


Ochi E, Tsuchiya Y. Eicosahexanoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexanoic Acid (DHA) in Muscle Damage and Function. Nutrients. 2018;10(5).

Capó X, Martorell M, Sureda A, Tur JA, Pons A. Effects of dietary Docosahexaenoic, training and acute exercise on lipid mediators. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2016;13:16.



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