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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

By Jessica Currier

I’m sure most of you remember the chia pet, the clay figurines with sprouts of chia to resemble hair or fur, or at least the jingle on their advertisement, “Chi-Chi-Chi-Chia!” If you haven’t heard already, you probably will soon, people are now consuming chia seeds for the added health benefits. Who would have thought that a garden ornament could be ingested to promote health and vitality?

Chia seeds are from the desert plant Salvia hispanica, a member of the mint family, and can be eaten raw or added to dishes (1). Consumers add chia to baked goods, breads, porridges, smoothies, and can be ground and added to water or milk. The seeds can be purchased at local health food stores or online. The familiar chia hair or sprouts can also be eaten and added to salads, sandwiches, and other dishes (1). Numerous claims can be found in the media concerning chia. Chia being an excellent source of fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and antioxidants are some of the proposed claims. The media also claims that chia can help cut cravings, balance blood sugar levels, improve cardiovascular disease, lower cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, and can promote weight loss. This exceptional list of health benefits really peaked my interest to find out the real scoop concerning chia seeds.

It is true that chia seeds do provide omega-3 fatty acids and contain fiber, antioxidants, protein, and minerals (1). While claims of weight loss and decreases in daily cravings may be a bit far fetched, increases in satiety due to the fiber and protein content may be valid. A study conducted by Nieman and Colleagues concluded that ingestion of 50g/d of chia seeds for 12 weeks did not influence body mass, composition, or disease risk factors in overweight/obese men and women (2). A recent study published in The Journal of Nutrition viewed the effects of a specific dietary pattern on Metabolic Syndrome (3). Sixty-seven participants with Metabolic Syndrome were involved in the study and were given a mixture to drink twice a day. The mixture chosen was based on antihyperglycemic, antihyperinsulinemic, hypolipidemic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidants effects (3). Chia seeds were included in this mixture because of the presence of fatty acids and antioxidants that promote a reduction in the inflammatory response (3). This study concluded that a dietary pattern of nopal, chia seed, soy protein, and oat showed a reduction in serum triglyceride levels, serum CRP (C-Reactive Protein test, indicates acute inflammation or infection), and insulin AUC (3).

Although this study does provide encouraging outcomes, more research needs to be done with the conjunction of chia seeds helping to improve cardiovascular disease, lowering cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, and weight loss promotion (1). Little published research concerning chia exists, and most information available is based on lab animals not humans (1). So remember, be an informed consumer with a critical eye when reviewing media claims. If you are looking for fiber or antioxidants, chia seeds would be a great addition to your diet; but for weight loss, stick with good old exercise and healthy food choices!

References:

1) Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. What are Chia seeds? Are There Health Benefits?

2) Nieman DC, Cayea EJ, Austin MD, Henson DA, McAnulty SR, Jin F. Chia seed does not promote weight loss or alter disease risk factors in overweight adults. Nutr Res. 2009;29:414- 418.

3) Guevara-Cruz M, Tovar A, Aguilar-Salinas C, Medina-Vera I, Gil-Zenteno L, Hernandez-Viveros I, Lopez-Romero P, Ordaz-Nava G, Canizales-Quinteros S, Guillen Pineda L, Torres N. A Dietary Pattern Including Nopal, Chia Seed, Soy Protein, and Oat Reduces Serum Triglycerides and Glucose Intolerance in Patients with Metabolic Syndrome. J. Nutr. 2012;142:64-69.