By: Diana Barnes-Brown for Uterus1
In the past few years, essential fatty acids have been hailed by many nutritionists and doctors as the newest holy grail of healthy eating, said to promote flexibility, improved mood and recovery from certain types of injuries, among other things.
| Up your intake of omega-3 fatty acids with:|
Fish including: salmon, mackerel, halibut, herring and sardines.
Oil including: olive oil, canola oil and flaxseed oil.
Green, leafy vegetables
Now, researchers have found one more benefit to add to a growing list. New evidence shows that maintaining a balance of certain fats can prevent or reduce estrogen deficiency-related bone loss after menopause, one of the biggest challenges to women who hope to maintain their health and wellbeing after going through “the change.”
Bruce Watkins, a professor and director of the Center for Enhancing Foods to Protect Health at Purdue University, announced the new findings last month.
Watkins reported that he and fellow researchers at Purdue and the Indiana University School of Medicine found diets with a low ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids minimized post-menopausal bone loss.
Omega-6 fatty acids are common in foods such as beef and grains, while omega-3 fatty acids occur in oily fish such as salmon, as well as nuts, seeds and leafy green vegetables.
"Our lab and others have shown that omega-3 fatty acids help promote bone formation," said Watkins, noting also that "higher intakes of omega-6 fatty acids lead to an increased production of compounds associated with bone loss."
The researchers made their discovery by examining bone mineral content and density (two key indicators of bone loss) in female rats, some of which had had their ovaries removed, leading to a series of hormonal changes that mimics menopause.
“Bone loss due to estrogen depletion in the adult female rat is very similar to that which occurs in post-menopausal women,” noted Mark Seifert, professor of anatomy and cell biology and co-author of the study. “Studies like this will help… researchers assess drugs or nutraceuticals that may reduce the bone loss that sets in with menopause,” he added.
In the study, the researchers fed the rats differing ratios of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Both types of fats are necessary for human health, but diets with a high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to cardiovascular disease and cancer, as well as inflammatory and autoimmune disorders. Conversely, a low ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 has been linked to cardiovascular health, memory, and now to bone health.
After 12 weeks, the rats with the lowest omega-6 to omega-3 ratio displayed better overall bone health than their counterparts.
Watkins noted that the results cannot yet be used to make concrete predictions about human response to the same compounds, but emphasized his belief that omega-3 fatty acids are a necessary component of healthy diets in humans.
Most Americans consume about a 10-to-1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, while the ratio that was found more effective in the rat study was around 5-to-1. Both the foods eaten – such as beef and grains – and the method of preparation – cooking with vegetable rather than nut or seed oils, for example – are responsible for the ratio, as is the high-grain diets that most livestock and poultry are fed in the U.S.
“The expression ‘You are what you eat’ is truer than you think,” Watkins commented.
The researchers think the bone-protective qualities of diets rich in omega-3 may be connected to the anti-inflammatory effects noted by other researchers. Both problems have been tied to estrogen deficiency.