Older women whose diet contains more omega-3 fatty acids seem to be at lower risk of hip fractures, according to a study by a team from the Ohio State University.
The researchers followed 324 pairs of post-menopausal women for 15 years. Half of them had suffered a hip fracture at some point and the other half had never experienced such a trauma. The analyses of red blood cell samples showed that higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, either from plant or fish sources, reduced the likelihood of a hip fracture. The scientists also looked at omega-6 fatty acids, whose content in a Western diet is typically between 15 and 17 times higher than that of omega-3. They found that the higher the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, the greater the likelihood of a hip fracture.
The research did not explore the mechanism of this relationship but the report suggests that the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids may have to do with their perceived ability to reduce inflammation. As senior study author Rebecca Jackson noted, inflammation is believed to heighten the risk of bone loss and fractures, while omega-3 fatty acids are thought to reduce inflammation.
Since cause and effect were not measured during the study, the researchers point out in their report that the findings cannot be used as definitive evidence for recommending omega-3 supplementation as a preventive measure. But according to Tonya Orchard, first author of the study, the results do add some strength to the argument for increasing omega-3 intake. They also suggest that plant sources may be as important as fish for preventing hip fractures in older women, she said.