The long chain omega 3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout and sardines, play an important role in optimal health. As previously mentioned in my blog posts they are important for our hearts, brain, eyes and may protect against various conditions. There is also some evidence to suggest that these fatty acids are important for bone health and perhaps prevent against osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.
A new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1) has found that fish consumption may protect against bone loss. The study aimed to look at the association between dietary intake of fatty acids and fish and bone mineral density in older adults (average age of 75 years). The study tracked changes in bone mineral density over a four year period.
The results of the study showed that high intakes of fish, 3 or more servings of fish a week, were associated with maintenance (ie no changes) in bone mineral density in men and women. The study was only an association study so it does not prove that eating fish can prevent bone loss in old age however, previous studies have also found that eating a diet rich in fish or having good intakes of the fish oils EPA and DHA, may contribute to a reduced risk of osteoporosis. It is thought that the fish oils may be working to protect bone through their anti-inflammatory actions. Inflammation in the body is known to be involved in the process of bone loss.
More evidence and further research is needed before firm conclusions can be drawn, however, oily fish has been shown in numerous studies to benefit health so including at least 2 servings a week in the diet is a good idea. For individuals who don’t regularly eat fish a fish oil supplement rich in DHA and EPA may be worth considering but it is always best to check with a medical doctor prior to starting any new supplement regimen.
A healthy diet is important for strong, healthy bones. Calcium, vitamin D are well known to be important for healthy bones but there are many other nutrients that are involved in bone strength such as magnesium, zinc, copper, potassium, silicon, manganese, vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin B and phytonutrients – biochemical plant compounds found in fruits and vegetables. A varied, healthy diet, especially on rich in fruits and vegetables and unprocessed unrefined pulses, beans, nuts/seeds and wholegrains, will provide a huge array of nutrients that may positively impact bone health. Please read my other posts relating to bone health for more information on how good nutrition may be helpful to keep bones strong.
(1) Emily K Farina EK et al. 2011. Protective effects of fish intake and interactive effects of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid intakes on hip bone mineral density in older adults: the Framingham Osteoporosis Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 93:1142-1151.
Written by Ani Richardson