Essential Fatty Acids may be a key ingredient in supporting bone health.
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) do not come to mind as the first thought in searching for nutritional answers regarding bone health. “Recent evidence-based research, however, supports intervention with adequate amounts of specific nutrients including vitamin D, strontium, vitamin K, and essential fatty acids in the prevention and primary management of osteoporosis” (Genius, Clin Nutr. 2007). Osteoporosis has become an epidemic in the Western World in recent years. How do EFAs fit into this problem that plagues us especially as we get older?
When we think about osteoperosis, we think calcium. Calcium and bone go together like salt and pepper. Add in some vitamin D and that’s about it. However, looking into it deeper we came up with a number of studies that say that EFAs should be right up front and strongly considered in our first line of bone defense.
Essential fatty acids are necessary to human survival, and are called essential because they must come from the diet; they cannot be made by the body. The omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are the best known. Learning that they are also important for bone health is something we need to know.
In vivo studies (that means in a living animal) have shown that supplementation with long chain n-6 poly-unsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in rats causes increases in intestinal Calcium absorption (Haag 2001). Haag and his colleagues reported a higher total calcium balance and bone calcium content just by adding in either sunflower or safflower oil in their diet.
In another study pregnant female rats were made diabetic. They use a chemical called streptozotocin to duplicate the disorder in the animals. They were then fed evening primrose oil (GLA) at 500 mg/kg/d throughout their pregnancy and found an almost complete restoration of bone ossification (process of laying down new bone) occurred just by adding in the primrose oils (Braddock, Pediatr Res. 2002).
Claassen et al, Prostaglandins 1995, found that the supplementation of essential fatty acids (EFAs) leads to increased intestinal calcium absorption and calcium balance. The main dietary EFAs they used were linoleic acid (LA) from sunflower oil and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) from flax seed oil. They were administered in a ratio of 3:1 which is very close to our 4:1 BodyBio Balanced oil. The calcium balance (mg/24 h) and bone calcium (mg/g bone ash) increased significantly in the group that were on the EFAs as compared to the animals that were not given the oils.
Schlemmer et al, Prostaglandins 1999, found that if you make animal’s essential fatty acid deficient they flat out develop osteoporosis. He then added in evening primrose oil (GLA) and completely reversed the loss of bone and reported positive effects on bone metabolism in both the growing male and female rat.
It certainly goes against what you might think. Oils are thin, some of them even squishy, while bone is completely hard as a rock. But leaning on our visual senses doesn’t work with body chemistry, obviously.Bone remodeling is a life-long process where mature bone tissue is removed from the skeleton and is called resorption, while new bone tissue is formed. It’s a process called ossification or new bone formation. These processes go on all the time and are managed by special cells that crawl along our bones and chew up excess bone growth, osteoclast. There is another cell osteoblast, that busily does the opposite, laying down new growth where it’s needed. In the first year of life, almost 100% of the skeleton is replaced. In adults, remodeling proceeds at about 10% per year (Wheeless). That means that in a span of 10 years our skeleton is brand new, If the process is continuous those cells that do the work must be directly influenced by essential fatty acids, and if EFAs are needed to get the job done, well…
Genuis SJ, Schwalfenberg GK. Picking a bone with contemporary osteoporosis management: Nutrient strategies to enhance skeletal integrity. Clin Nutr. 2007 Apr;26(2):193-207
Haag M, Kearns SD, Magada ON, Mphata PR, Claassen N, Kruger MC. Effect of arachidonic acid on duodenal enterocyte ATPases. Prostaglandins Other Lipid Mediat. 2001 Aug;66(1):53-63
Braddock R, Siman CM, Hamilton K, Garland HO, Sibley CP. Gamma-linoleic acid and ascorbate improves skeletal ossification in offspring of diabetic rats. Pediatr Res. 2002 May;51(5):647-52.
Claassen N, Coetzer H, Steinmann CM, Kruger MC. The effect of different n-6/n-3 essential fatty acid ratios on calcium balance and bone in rats. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 1995 Jul;53(1):13-9.
Schlemmer CK, Coetzer H, Claassen N, Kruger MC. Oestrogen and essential fatty acid supplementation corrects bone loss due to ovariectomy in the female Sprague Dawley rat. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 1999 Dec;61(6):381-90
Wheeless Textbook of Orthopedics, Clifford R. Wheeless, III, MD.