An oil derived from tiny crustaceans could boost muscle strength in later life and prevent elderly falls, a new study suggests.

As we age there is a slow deterioration in muscle mass and function known as known as sarcopenia.

Krill oil contains high concentrations of the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, also found in oily fish, which previous scientific studies have shown are important nutrients for the body in our advancing years.

EPA has anti-inflammatory effects while DHA is known for boosting brain health.

The first study of its kind by the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences (ICAMS) found that adults given daily supplements had " clinically significant" increases in knee and hand grip strength and skeletal muscle thickness.

Men and women aged over 65 with a BMI less than 35 who participated in less than one hour of exercise per week took part in the study.

HeraldScotland:

The 102 participants were randomly divided into two groups, a control group that received the placebo and a test group that received four grams per day of Superba krill oil from industry collaborator Aker BioMarine. 

Prior to the start of the study, researchers measured baseline levels for thigh muscle strength and hand grip strength as well as body fat and blood lipid levels.

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After six months there was a 9.3% increase in muscle strength and 10% rise in grip strength - equivalent to turning back the clock ten years -  among those taking the supplement compared with the control group.

The loss of muscle mass and function increases the risk of falls in elderly people often leading to hospitalisation.

While resistance exercise improves muscle mass and function, even in women in their 90s,  it is less effective than in young people and uptake is low.

The researchers said the data “tentatively indicates” that krill as a supplement may be more beneficial for health than fish oils because it contains others nutrients including choline, which helps the brain and liver function correctly.

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Dr Stuart Gray, Senior Lecturer at the University of Glasgow’s ICAMS, said: “This is yet another a strong indication that the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are important nutrients for adults as we age, and we are keen to investigate this further, particularly whether this could be a useful treatment for those who already have muscle weakness.” 

HeraldScotland:

Line Johnsen of Aker BioMarine, added:  “As humans age, we experience a slow deterioration of our muscle mass and function. 

"Previous research has indicted 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 for skeletal muscle metabolism and health. 

"This study strengthens the hypothesis that daily supplementation of krill oil for an extended period can improve knee thigh muscle strength, grip strength and muscle thickness in healthy, older adults.”

Researchers said further studies are required to understand the mechanisms through which krill oil are acting on muscle.