Omega-3 fatty acids linked to denser bones in men

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Omega-3 fatty acids may help build young men’s bone strength, research hints.

In the study, men who had the highest levels of omega-3s in their blood as 22-year-olds showed the greatest bone mineral density, and also built the most bone between their late teens and their early 20s, Dr. Magnus Hogstrom and colleagues from Umea University in Umea, Sweden found.

The amount of bone mineral people accumulate as adolescents and young adults is considered a key factor in whether or not they will develop the brittle bone disease osteoporosis later on, Hogstrom and his team note the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Animal studies have suggested omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish and flaxseed as well as other food sources, may promote bone formation and density, they add.

To investigate whether omega-3s might play a role in bone strength, the researchers followed 78 young men from age 16 to 24. They measured bone mineral density at three points in the course of the study, and checked blood levels of fatty acids when the men were 22.

Higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), were linked to greater bone mineral density in the body and the spine at age 22. Higher levels of omega-3s were also tied to greater accumulation of spinal bone mineral density between age 16 and age 22.

Omega-3 fatty acids, the authors point out, might influence bone formation by affecting calcium metabolism or the formation of collagen. “More studies are needed to confirm our results and investigate the relationship between individual polyunsaturated fatty acids and BMD further,” they conclude.

The study “nicely adds to a growing body of evidence that omega-3 fatty acids are also beneficial to bone health,” Drs. Chaim Vanek and William E. Connor of Oregon Health & Science University in Portland write in an editorial accompanying the study.

SOURCE: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, March 2007.