Omega-3 supplements may ‘modestly’ reduce falls among the elderly: Large RCT

By Stephen Daniells contact

- Last updated on GMT

© Goodboy Picture Company / Getty Images
© Goodboy Picture Company / Getty Images

Related tags: omega-3, Omega-3 fatty acids, Fish oil, Dha omega-3, EPA omega-3, Omega-3 supplements, falls, healthy aging

A three-year double-blind randomized controlled trial with over 2,000 participants showed that omega-3 supplements may have an impact on the rate of falls in older people, the first time such a result has been reported.

On the other hand, a daily dose of vitamin D did not impact falls, according to findings published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition​.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first clinical trial reporting the effect of supplemental marine omega-3s with regard to fall prevention,” ​wrote scientists from the DO-HEALTH Research Group, led by Heike Bischoff-Ferrari from University Hospital Zurich.

“Although the overall reduction of the rate of total falls is modest with 10%, its consistency across subgroups of the generally healthy and active study population age 70 years and older, may be relevant in this population.”

“Focus on increasing omega-3 intake earlier in life”

Commenting independently on the study’s findings, Harry Rice, PhD, VP of regulatory & scientific affairs for the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED), told us: “Perhaps what I found most interesting was that both EPA and DHA levels were statistically significantly higher in subjects who had not experienced a prior fall versus those who had experienced a fall at baseline. This suggests that higher levels of EPA and DHA are protective of falling.

“Also, while it is impressive that supplemental EPA/DHA versus placebo reduced the incidence rate of total falls by 10%, that a subgroup analysis revealed that participants with higher EPA/DHA levels at baseline had an even lower incidence rate of falls of 17% suggests that achieving the best results requires one to focus on increasing omega-3 intake earlier, rather than later, in life. 

Of course, I'm making some assumptions, but given the limited evidence for fall prevention strategies in this population, the current results provide more than enough evidence to justify pursuing further research in this area,” ​added Dr Rice

Study details

The DO-HEALTH study included 2,157 community-dwelling adults aged 70 and older. The study participants, recruited from Switzerland, Germany, Austria, France, and Portugal, did not have any major health events in the five years prior to the study.

Participants were randomly assigned to one of eight groups:
1. 2,000 IU/d of vitamin D3 plus 1 gram per day of EPA + DHA omega-3s plus a simple home exercise program (SHEP)
2. Vitamin D plus omega-3s (same doses)
3. Vitamin D plus SHEP
4. Omega-3s plus SHEP
5. Vitamin D alone
6. Omega-3s alone
7. SHEP alone
8. Placebo

Over the three years of the study, the DO-HEALTH scientists recorded 3,333 falls among the 1,900 people who completed the study. Crunching the numbers showed that, overall, vitamin D and SHEP had no impact on total falls. Omega-3s were associated with a 10% reduction in total falls, compared to no omega-3s, said the researchers.

“Our findings are held mechanistically by the anti-inflammatory and thereby muscle preserving benefits of omega-3s, and their suggested direct anabolic effect on muscle by activation of mTOR signalling,”​ wrote Bischoff-Ferrari.

“Additionally, given the multifactorial causes of falls, we cannot exclude that omega-3s may reduce fall risk also by its potential benefits on cognitive and cardio-vascular function”

Null findings

On the null findings from vitamin D3 and SHEP, the researchers said the new data does not invalidate potential benefits from these types of interventions reported in other studies that used different study populations and, in the case of vitamin D, different doses.

“[…] our results may provide insight on the need for individualization of preventive efforts depending on the target population,” ​they said.

Source: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqac022
“Effects of vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids and a simple home strength exercise program on fall prevention: the DO-HEALTH randomized clinical trial”
Authors: H.A. Bischoff-Ferrari et al.

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