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Does Flaxseed Oil Build Muscle?

By Cassie M. Chew

Increasing the amount of protein in the diet likely is the first thing that comes to mind when someone develops a plan to build muscle. However, researchers at a university in Canada say that omega-3 essential fatty acids found in fish oil, combined with a physical training program, also can benefit athletes trying to increase muscle mass. Flaxseed oil is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids and may have similar health benefits as fish oil, however researchers aren't sure if you can substitute flaxseed oil for fish oil to achieve the same muscle-building benefits.

Flaxseed Oil and Omega 3 Fats

Flaxseed oil is a rich source of the essential fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, a precursor to omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid docosahexaenoic acid -- also called EPA and DHA, respectively. Fish oil is a rich source of EPA and DHA. Among other health benefits, studies show that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol and reduce risk of heart disease. Flaxseed oil contains 50 to 60 percent omega-3 fatty acids in the form ALA. However, the body isn't very efficient at converting ALA into EPA and DHA, according to the medical center at the University of Maryland. Thus, researchers aren't certain whether ALA from flaxseed oil has all of the same health benefits as EPA and DHA derived from fish oil.

Omega-3 and Muscle Research

A study published in the "Journal of Physiology" in 2007 reported that omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil have a positive effect on the metabolism of muscle proteins. In the study, researchers at the Institute of Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods on the campus of Universite Laval in Québec, fed fish-oil supplements to steers. After five weeks, the researchers found that the animals were able to convert twice the amount of amino acids to synthesize proteins, particularly in their muscles. The omega-3s get incorporated into muscle cells, improving the cells' metabolism.

EPA and Muscle Development

The researchers said that the omega-3 essential fatty acids increased protein metabolism by restoring insulin sensitivity, which the body needs to effectively use food for energy and to rebuild tissues. The researchers said that omega-3 acids from fish oil may prevent older people from losing muscle and may prevent health conditions resulting from loss of muscle mass. Supplementing the diet with omega-3 fatty acids also may help athletes increase their muscle mass, however, it won't replace workouts.

Substituting Flaxseed Oil for Fish OIl

Researchers at the Institute of Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods said that best way to take in omega-3 fatty acids is by eating three or more servings of a variety of fish each week. For those who want to substitute flaxseed oil for fish oil, the medical center at the University of Maryland says that 7 grams of flaxseed oil is roughly equivalent to 1 gram of fish oil. For general health maintenance, the medical center recommends that adults take 1 to 2 tablespoonfuls or 1 to 2 flaxseed oil capsules daily.


While flaxseed oil can help improve the effectiveness of cholesterol-lowering medications and reduce side effects of other drugs, people who are taking blood-thinning or blood sugar-lowering medications should avoid taking flaxseed oil until they've spoken with their doctor, the medical center at the University of Maryland advises.

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