The World's Healthiest Foods

Bone Up on Anti-Inflammatory Omega-3 Fats

To protect your bones from osteoporosis, you can do a lot more than just getting more calcium in your diet. New research provides strong evidence that the type of fats you eat can play a key role in influencing the rate of bone breakdown.

In a recent review article, Dr. Bruce Watkins and his co-authors at the Lipid Chemistry and Molecular Biology Laboratory at Purdue University discuss experimental evidence showing that omega-3 fatty acids, (found in high concentrations in many of the World's Healthiest Foods including wild-caught cold-water fish like salmon) can significantly decrease bone turnover rates.

In women, these beneficial omega-3 fats work with estrogen to stimulate bone mineral deposits and slow the rate of bone breakdown. But it's not simply a matter of consuming more omega-3 rich foods; you also need to consume less of foods containing omega-6 fats. Increasing your consumption of omega-3s and decreasing your consumption of omega-6 fats (i.e., arachidonic acid, which is found in meat and dairy products), more effectively reduces bone turnover. This is because arachidonic acid is used by the body to produce a type of inflammatory mediator called the Series 2 prostaglandins (PGE2). PGE2 can set off inflammatory chain reactions that degrade cartilage and trigger increased activity by osteoclasts, the cells whose job it is to break down or "resorb" old bone. Watkins and his co-authors suggest that the two mechanisms help explain why increasing consumption of cold-water fish, while decreasing consumption of meat and dairy products, can produce such positive effects in clinical studies of patients with bone and joint diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, while also appearing to reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis in other studies. (For more information about the roles both omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids play in your health, see the section titled "The Essential PUFA Fats" in the FAQ: A New Way Of Looking at Proteins, Fats and Carbohydrates

At a recent panel discussion on nutraceutical medicine held at Duke University, Dr. Watkins remarked that creating an optimal dietary ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats offers the most promising potential for treating bone and inflammatory joint disease in the near future. What this means in terms of the way we eat is to reduce (by at least half, suggests Dr. Watkins) the current typical ratio of 20:1 omega 6:omega 3 fats that is found in the Standard American Diet. Increasing your consumption of bone-protective omega-3 fats could be as important for battling bone loss as ensuring adequate calcium intake, because, according to Dr. Robert P. Heaney, a researcher who specializes in calcium regulation and bone density, dietary calcium, by itself, "explains only about 10% of the variability in calcium balance ."

To learn more about the beneficial actions of these essential fats, click omega 3 fatty acids.

Want suggestions for ways to increase your consumption of omega-3s? For a list of the World's Healthiest Foods' Recipes containing omega-3 fats, click on the Recipe Assistant, select "omega-3 fatty acids" from the nutrients list, and click on the Submit button. A list containing links to all our recipes containing foods rich in omega-3s will appear immediately below.

Reference: Watkins BA, Li Y, Seifert MF. Nutraceutical fatty acids as biochemical and molecular modulators or skeletal biology. Am J Clin Nutr 2001;20(5):410S-420S.