Brock research says eating healthy fats keeps bones stronger

We’ve all been told that a glass of milk will help us build stronger, healthier bones. But what about the food on our plates?

A newly released review by graduate student Amanda Longo and Professor of Kinesiology Wendy Ward highlights that, in general, individuals who consume higher amounts of fatty acids from fish have fewer fragility fractures.

Those types of falls – and subsequent broken bones – typically happen at sites like the wrist, hip, and vertebrae in older adults battling osteoporosis.

Lead author Amanda Longo reviewed the research results of a wide array of studies looking at the relationship between nutrition and bone health. (For a video Longo produced on nutrition and bone health, view here).

She focused her review on polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), called omega-6 and omega-3 PUFAs.

These “healthy fats” are found in foods such as fish, vegetable oils and some nuts and seeds.

“Findings from human studies indicate that higher fatty fish intake is strongly linked with fewer fragility fractures that can occur when people fall from standing height or less,” says Longo, a graduate student in the Department of Kinesiology.

“If we look at global patterns of fracture, it seems that those in rural Asian countries fracture less,” says Longo. “We know that the diets of those from these countries seem to contain a lot more omega-3-rich foods including fish.”

Longo stresses that strong bones require a healthy, well-balanced diet overall.

Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide recommends at least two servings of fish (75 grams/serving) each week as part of a healthy diet. “Choosing fish that are highest in omega-3 fats, such as salmon, char, or herring will provide us with the greatest overall benefits to our health, and to our bones,” she says.

For those who do not consume animal sources of omega-3 PUFA, there is some evidence to support a benefit to bone health through the plant sources of omega-3, found in flaxseed, walnuts, soy, and some omega-3 fortified food products.

Longo’s supervisor and study co-author Wendy Ward, professor in the Department of Kinesiology, says that the whole diet should be considered for bone health, and in the context of an overall healthy lifestyle.

“Other bone-supporting nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D and protein are part of a strategy for keeping our bones as strong as possible throughout our lifespan,” she says. “Foods that are good for one aspect of our health, such as our skeleton, are also helpful to support overall health.”

As a helpful information source, Ward points to EatRight Ontario, a province-wide service in which registered dieticians give a range of advice on healthful eating.

The team’s review – “PUFAs, Bone Mineral Density, and Fragility Fracture: Findings from Human Studies” – was published March 15 in Advances in Nutrition.

This is one of two papers graduate student Longo published in recent times. The other study appearing in the online issue of Calcified Tissue International showed that “imaging of bone structure, using micro-CT, safely allows us to measure the response of bone tissue to an intervention at multiple times throughout the lifespan. Knowing how the three-dimensional structure of a bone changes helps us to predict risk of fracture.”

“The micro-CT is able to look at the three dimensional structure of a bone to a tenth of a millimeter; it’s able to resolve and quantify the detail of the bone at a very high resolution,” she says.

Longo is a contestant in the NSERC Science, Action! video contest sponsored by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

The federal granting agency has posted research videos from 33 graduate students across Canada. The 15 videos with the most views will proceed to the final round where the top winners will be decided by a panel of judges.

Longo is one of two Brock University contestants.


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