The population in North America is aging, and along with aging comes an increased risk of hip fractures from falls. Hip fractures are serious injuries that often result in long-term disability in the senior population, with three quarters of these hip fractures occurring in women. New research published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research suggests that higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids in the blood may help to significantly reduce the risk of hip fractures and bone damage in post-menopausal women. Such studies comprise a growing mound of research that continues to highlight the incredible importance of diet and proper nutrition to the essential preservation of health, mobility and wellbeing as we age.
Omega-3 and Bone Damage
Researchers analyzed blood samples as well as hip fracture records from 341 pairs of participants from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study. The WHI study was a large prospective study that enrolled participants in the years between 1993 and 1998 and followed them for 15 years. Half of the participants analyzed had broken their hips before 2008 while the other half had not. The researchers found that the higher levels of total Omega-3 fatty acids and two other specific Omega-3’s (alpha-linoleic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid) alone were associated with a reduced risk of hip damage. Interestingly, women who had the highest ratio of Omega-6 fatty acids to Omega-3 fatty acids had a two-fold increased risk of hip fracture compared to women that had the lowest ratio.
The current study did not look at the mechanisms of how Omega-3 fatty acids and hip fractures are related but they hypothesized that damage caused by inflammation may be responsible for hip fractures. Inflammation may contribute to bone resorption (breaking down of bone) and they suggest that Omega-3 fatty acids help to reduce inflammation and thereby reduce damage to the bone.
Healthy Food Containing Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids and Omega-6 fatty acids are poly-unsaturated, essential fatty acids, meaning that they contribute to vital biological processes in the body. However, it also means that the body can’t produce them on its own and they therefore must be obtained through your diet. While both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are needed in the body, increasing your intake of Omega-3 fatty acids and limiting your intake of Omega-6 fatty acids will provide you with optimal health benefits. This is because most American’s get high doses of Omega-6’s in their daily diet through vegetable oil and other oils. The findings from the current study suggests that adding healthy food, rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, may help to prevent hip fractures, especially if you’re a post-menopausal woman. Healthy food that contains alpha-linoleic (ALA) includes plant sources including flax seeds and some nuts. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is found in fatty fish. For added bone protection, try incorporating these healthy food options into your diet on a regular basis.
Additional Ways to Prevent Hip Fractures
In addition to adding healthy food options into your diet, other steps can be taken to reduce the risk of bone damaging falls which will help to reduce the risk of hip fractures. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are a number of steps that you can take, including:
- Exercising regularly – performing cardiovascular activities, strength training and balance exercises will help to maintain strength and balance, thereby reducing your risk of falling
- Having your doctor review your medication – this will help to ensure that the medication that you’re taking doesn’t cause dizziness or balance issues
- Having your eyes checked regularly – this will help to ensure that the glasses or contacts that you’re wearing are providing you with optimal vision
- Making home safety improvements – adding grab bars throughout your house, extended toilets, and removing tripping hazards in your home will help to reduce your risk of falling
More research is needed to determine if there is a cause and effect relationship between high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and a reduced risk of hip fracture. In the meantime, adding healthy food into your diet that contains omega-3 fatty acids and taking additional steps to for fall prevention may help to provide protection against hip fractures and disability. According to the Mayo Clinic, the recommended dosage of Omega 3 fatty acids should be approximately 1.6 grams a day, consisting of 90 percent (1.4 grams) of ALA and 10 percent (0.1-0.2 grams) of DHA and EPA.