Omega-3 fatty acids have been long touted for their cardiovascular benefits. But many research studies strongly suggest that these fatty acids exert improvements well beyond those related to heart health.

 

Omega-3 fatty acids and/or fish oil supplements (the latter being a rich source of omega-3s) have been administered to those with cancer, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and psychiatric disorders (i.e. schizophrenia and major depressive disorder) with resultant improvements in disease-specific outcomes and body composition (read: more and/or better quality of muscle) (1, 2). The supplement also has essentially no side effects, aside from the occasional lingering fishy after-taste. It’s thought that these beneficial effects are due to omega-3’s inhibition of numerous pro-inflammatory pathways.

So is there a place for these supplements in healthy populations? Say, exercising older adults? This is exactly what Mariasole Da Boit and a group of colleagues investigated in a randomized, double-blind placebo controlled trial published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition earlier this year (3). Fifty men and women (age 70.6 ± 4.5) participated in a resistance exercise training program for lower limbs twice weekly for 18 weeks. All were randomized to 3g fish oil/day or placebo (3g safflower oil/day). In women, maximal isometric torque (static contraction) and muscle quality defined by torque per unit of muscle cross-sectional area improved more in the fish oil group, independent of muscle mass changes; no differences were observed in men. Plasma triglycerides decreased in both sexes, while maximal isokinetic torque (moving contraction), 4-minute walk test, chair-rise time, muscle size, and muscle fat did not differ. The authors speculate that omega-3 improves neuromuscular function and/or enhances the contractile properties of type II (fast-twitch) muscle fibers. Some findings suggest that older women do not increase muscle strength to the same degree as older men; thus women could undergo a more profound response to resistance training since there is a greater capacity for muscular improvement.

While this is only one study and the mechanisms behind the results are somewhat speculative, the results are promising. With forthcoming research, omega-3 fatty acid supplements might become an evidence-based recommendation for healthy community-dwelling older adults and many clinical populations.

  1. Lee S, Gura KM, Kim S, Arsenault DA, Bistrian BR, Puder M. Current clinical application of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Nutrition in Clinical Practice 2006; 21(4):323-41
  2. Murphy RA, Mourtzakis M, Chu QS, Baracos VE, Reiman T, Mazurak VC. Nutritional intervention with fish oil provides a benefit over standard of care for weight and skeletal muscle mass in patients with nonsmall cell lung cancer receiving chemotherapy. Cancer 2011;117(8):1775-82.
  3. Da Boit , Sibson R, Sivasubramaniam S, Meakin JR, Greig CA, Aspden RM, et al. Sex differences in the effect of fish-oil supplementation on the adaptiveresponse to resistance exercise training in older people: a randomized controlled trial. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2017; 105:151-8
Instagram: The New Frontier for Weight Loss?

When you open Instagram*, you’re immediately bombarded with beautiful pictures of iconic nature scenes, happily engaged couples, the most adorable animals, and, of course, drool-worthy plates of food.

This relatively new social network has been growing in users every day and novel ways of using the application have emerged, including tracking weight loss and weight management. Research has shown that social support can be a key feature for many when embarking on a diet to lose weight. Emerging studies have found that online social networks can help motivate and encourage participants to adhere to their health goals. Instagram has captured the attention of people looking to share and find healthy living inspirations through photos and captions.

Recently, researchers from the University of Washington conducted semi-structured interviews with participants that use Instagram to share photos of their daily eats instead of using a traditional food journal or application to record their food intake. They found that one of the benefits of the Instagram method was taking photos of food when dining out or dining with friends is easier than trying to write or record a description of the meal. Also, Instagram provides a visual food diary, which can be useful in identifying volume and quality of food.

Another benefit is that participants reported that the social and emotional support they received from other Instagram users helped keep them accountable towards their goals, honest about their dietary intake, and encouraged them to extend support to other users. Instagram also allows users to create multiple accounts, so participants appreciated how they could create an account specifically geared towards healthy living. This led them to find likeminded communities and followers through the use of healthy eating, tracking, and weight loss-related hashtags. This also allowed participants to keep their personal account separate so they do not overwhelm friends and family with their food photos. Participants that met their weight loss goals and reached the maintenance stage found that staying on Instagram to mentor others motivated them to stick to their health goals, since they have users relying on them for support.

However, Instagram is not a foolproof platform for successful weight loss and weight management. Dr. Charles Spence, University of Oxford, warns in his review that looking at visually appealing pictures of food through advertisements and social media could stimulate hunger signals. When this “digital grazing” is done too often, it could tempt people to eat, even when they are not hungry. Another study administered an online survey to participants about their social media use, dietary habits, and had them complete an orthorexia nervosa assessment tool. The study found that out of all the social media channels, only higher Instagram use was linked to a greater tendency towards orthorexia nervosa.

Instagram has only been in existence since 2010 and research on the platform is still in its early stages. As access to technology continues to evolve, more research in this area will hopefully continue to emerge. For some, utilizing a social media platform to track and meet health goals could be a useful strategy.

 

*Instagram is a picture-messaging smartphone application where users can upload photos, apply photo editing filters, and share with the Instagram community through strategically-placed hashtags that link photos together into a virtual photo album.

 

References:

Chung CF, Agapie E, Schroeder J, et al. When Personal Tracking Becomes Social: Examining the Use of Instagram for Healthy Eating. CHI. 2017. doi:10.1145/3025453.3025747

Elfhag K and Rossner S. Who succeeds in maintaining weight loss? A conceptual review of factors associated with weight loss maintenance and weight regain. Obesity Rev. 2005; 6, 67–85. doi:10.1111/j.1467-789X.2005.00170.x

Harvey-Berino J, Pintauro S, and Buzzell P. Effect of Internet Support on the Long-Term Maintenance of Weight Loss. Obes Res. 2004;12, 320–329. doi:10.1038/oby.2004.40

Hu Y, Manikonda L, Kambhampati S. What We Instagram: A First Analysis of Instagram Photo Content and User Types. Proceedings of the Eighth International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media. 2014. Retrieved from https://www.aaai.org/ocs/index.php/ICWSM/ICWSM14/paper/viewFile/8118/8087

Hwang KO, Ottenbacher AJ, Green AP, et al. Social support in an Internet weight loss community. Int J Med Inform. 2010; 79(1), 5–13. doi:10.1016/j.ijmedinf.2009.10.003

Spence C, Okajima K, Cheok AD, et al. Eating with our eyes: From visual hunger to digital satiation. Brain Cogn. 2016; 110, 53–63. doi:10.1016/j.bandc.2015.08.006

Turner PG and Lefevre CE. Instagram use is linked to increased symptoms of orthorexia nervosa. Eat Weight Disord. 2017; 22, 277–284. doi:10.1007/s40519-017-0364-2