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EPA for a Big-Muscle Payday

Essential fatty acids show anabolic promise

Essential fats’especially EPA, or eicosapentanoic acid’are amazing. In fact, a high intake of EPA, an n-3 highly unsaturated fatty acid, may be effective treatment for at least some patients with chronic fatigue syndrome.1 But you’re thinking, I ain’t fatigued. How about its effect on muscle? Well, my friend, EPA is a damned good friend to muscle. Here’s why.

We know that muscles atrophy due to a reduction in protein synthesis combined with an increase in the rate of protein degradation. The converse of that is needed to promote growth: You either jack up protein synthesis or decrease protein degradation.

Research shows that EPA lessens protein degradation but has no effect on protein synthesis. A recent study looked at the effects of EPA combined with protein-and-amino-acid supplementation on protein synthesis and degradation in gastrocnemius muscles of mice bearing the cachexia-inducing MAC16 tumor (cachexia is severe weight loss and muscle wasting). Muscles from cachectic mice showed an 80 percent reduction in protein synthesis and about a 50-fold increase in protein degradation compared with muscles from non-tumor-bearing mice of the same age and weight. Daily treatment with EPA in a dosage equivalent to about 70 grams of fat for a 154-pound human (that’s a lot of fat!) reduced protein degradation by 88 percent but had no effect on protein synthesis.

Combining EPA with casein had no effect on protein synthesis, and adding carbohydrate to stimulate insulin release had no additional effect. When it was combined with the amino acids leucine, arginine and methionine, however, there was almost a doubling of protein synthesis and of the ratio of protein synthesis to protein degradation in gastrocnemius muscle over that of EPA alone. According to the scientists, ‘The results suggest that combination therapy of cancer cachexia involving both inhibition of the enhanced protein degradation and stimulation of the reduced protein synthesis may be more effective than either treatment alone.’2

For those of you who don’t happen to have a cachectic tumor, I’d suggest you take in copious quantities of EPA and amino acids. Eating 70 grams of fat isn’t an option, but eating as much fatty fish, such as salmon and cod, as you can is a great way to achieve a good intake of EPA. And make sure you top it off with a minimum of one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight daily.


1 Puri, B.K. (2004). The use of eicosapentaenoic acid in the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 70:399-401.
2 Smith, H.J.; Greenberg, N.A.; Tisdale, M.J. (2004). Effect of eicosapentaenoic acid, protein and amino acids on protein synthesis and degradation in skeletal muscle of cachectic mice. Br J Cancer. 91:408-12.

Editor’s note: Jose Antonio, Ph.D., is the chief science officer of Javalution ( and the president of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (

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