Eating fish, already known to be good for your heart, may also help protect your bones against osteoporosis-but the interactions between the fats found in fish and bone mass are complicated, according to new research. Scientists from Tufts, Northeastern, Harvard and Boston University took a fresh look at data from the Framingham Osteoporosis Study following 623 older adults (average age 75) over four years. In general, those with the highest fish intake (three or more weekly servings), especially darker-fleshed fish, experienced lower loss of bone density.
Darker-fleshed fish, which are highest in the healthy omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, include salmon, mackerel, sardines, swordfish and bluefish. Although some of these fish, such as mackerel and swordfish, raise red flags for possible mercury contamination, this is less of a concern for the older people most at risk of osteoporosis than for pregnant and nursing women.
Some of the associations between fish consumption and bone density differed by gender, according to lead author Emily K. Farina, PhD, who undertook the research while at Tufts Friedman School. Women, but not men, saw a protective effect associated with tuna consumption. In men only, higher intakes of EPA and DHA were associated with better maintenance of bone density, especially when combined with an omega-6 fatty acid (arichidonic acid, or AA) also found in fish. High intakes of AA, however, appeared to be protective only in combination with plenty of omega-3s.
How might eating fish be good for your bones? One possibility is that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish help transport calcium through your body while reducing the excretion of calcium in your urine. That makes calcium more readily available for keeping your bones strong.The takeaway, researchers concluded, may not be as simple as eat fish to protect your bones. But given the other health benefits of fish consumption, it cant hurt.
TO LEARN MORE: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, May 2011; abstract at dx.doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.110.005926.
For an easy and tasty grilled salmon recipe thats also packed with healthy vegetables, see page 6 in this issue.