Fats for Bones? Proper ratio of omega fats can ward off osteoporosis

Maintaining a proper balance of dietary fats may ward off much of the bone loss associated with post-menopausal osteoporosis, according to a recent study by scientists at Purdue University and the Indiana University School of Medicine. The researchers found that diets with a low ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids minimized the bone loss typically brought on by estrogen deficiency, which is common in post-menopausal females. Omega-6 fatty acids are typically found in foods such as grains and red meat, while omega-3 fatty acids are found in foods such as nuts and certain fish.

“Our lab and others have shown that omega-3 fatty acids help promote bone formation,” said researcher Bruce Watkins. “We also have shown that higher intakes of omega-6 fatty acids lead to an increased production of compounds associated with bone loss.”

The current study assessed bone mineral content and bone mineral density in female rats. These measurements are used as indicators of bone mass and bone strength, respectively.

“Bone loss due to estrogen depletion in the adult female rat is very similar to that which occurs in post-menopausal women,” said Mark Seifert, a co-author of the study. “Studies like this will help us and other researchers assess drugs or nutraceuticals that may reduce the bone loss that sets in with menopause,” he said.

While both types of fats are essential for human health, diets with a high ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids are often associated with cardiovascular disease, cancer and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. A low ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, however, is believed to promote cardiovascular health, improve memory and, as the current study shows, protect bone health.

Purdue University, July 12, 2005