Omega-3 FA may be protective against the deterioration of physical function in older people


The preventive role of omega-3 fatty acids supplementation on several negative health outcomes have been confirmed in many studies. On this occasion, we will talk about their effects on physical function decline associated with age. The importance of nutrition for maintaining the health of aging people is well known. Regarding physical function, various studies have shown that lower intakes of omega-3 fatty acids are associated with worse physical function, and that high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, especially EPA and DHA, are associated with improved muscle composition and muscle strength, as well as with physical performance and bone health in older people (which means lower risk of reduced mobility and disability).

The omega-3 index (red blood cells membrane content of EPA and DHA) is a good way to measure the status in omega-3 fatty acids of a person, because it reflects EPA and DHA intake over a period of several months (it is a reliable and accurate measure). The omega-3 index has been used in a recent study to investigate the relationship between omega-3 fatty acids and physical performance in older people.

The results of this research showed that older people with a low omega-3 index had worse physical function (measured with a set of tests of physical performance which include, for instance, gait speed) than people with a high omega-3 index.

A possible explanation for the observed relationship between omega-3 fatty acids and physical performance is the red blood cell deformability, which decreases with exercise (and this may reduce the efficacy of oxygen delivery through the microcirculation) and increases because of the incorporation of omega-3 fatty acids into red blood cells membrane. Omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to facilitate the transport of red blood cells through the system of capillaries, which could lead to enhanced oxygen delivery to skeletal muscle and a subsequent improvement in physical performance. Other mechanism to consider is the role of omega-3 fatty acids in nervous system activity. They increase neuroplasticity of nerve membranes, contribute to formation of synapses, and are involved in synaptic transmission (low omega-3 fatty acids levels have been associated with accelerated decline of peripheral nerve function with aging).

In conclusion, since aging is associated with loss of physical function, it is good to know that higher concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids may be protective against the deterioration of physical performance in older persons.


Fougère B, de Souto Barreto P, Goisser S, Soriano G, Guyonnet S, Andrieu S, et al.; MAPT Study Group. Red blood cell membrane omega-3 fatty acid levels and physical performance: Cross-sectional data from the MAPT study. Clin Nutr. 2018;37(4):1141-4.

Fougère B, Goisser S, Cantet C, Soriano G, Guyonnet S, De Souto Barreto P, et al.; MAPT Study Group. Omega-3 fatty acid levels in red blood cell membranes and physical decline over 3 years: longitudinal data from the MAPT study. GeroScience. 2017; 39(4):429-37.


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