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Preserving bone mass by consuming oils

Scientists from the Human Nutrition Research Unit have demonstrated the benefits of borage or fish oil consumption on preserving bone mass during ageing. These findings open the way to new nutritional strategies to prevent osteoporosis.

Olive oil. © INRA, MAITRE Christophe
Updated on 05/31/2013
Published on 02/14/2012

Fats are prevalent in Western diets: they account for between 40% and 45% of total energy intake, even though the recommended intakes are below 30%. In addition, and still according to dietary guidelines, these lipids should be made up of at least 70% unsaturated fatty acids. However, these recommendations are far from being respected. Moreover, the imbalance between the main families of fatty acids has known harmful effects on the body, affecting most notably the muscles, where insulin resistance may be induced and may contribute to the process of bone loss. However, the relationships between fatty acids and dysfunctions of bone metabolism in the elderly still remain poorly understood and controversial.

Scientists from the Human Nutrition Research Unit (INRA UMR1019) initiated a study to analyse the impact of the fatty acids quality on bone mass evolution during ageing, and to better characterise the mechanisms involved.

Progeria model mice (accelerated senescence) and control mice (normal ageing) were subjected to one of the four diets below, supplied “ad libitum” for 12 months:

  • Standard
  • Sunflower oil (high omega-6/omega-3 ratio, and thus mainly unfavourable)
  • Borage oil (high content in gamma-linolenic acid)
  • Fish oil (high content in very long-chain omega-3, thus potentially protective, at least at the cardiovascular level).

As expected, the progeria model mice developed senile osteoporosis which could, among other factors, be explained by the installation of chronic inflammation. Sunflower oil exacerbated this bone loss phenomenon (but did not modify bone status in normal animals). However, borage oil or fish oil supplementation in mice with accelerated ageing was able to preserve their bone mass (maintenance of bone mineral density at a level equivalent to that seen in control animals).

This particularly original finding highlights the potential benefits of certain fats, depending on the quality of their fatty acids. Therefore, modulation of the quality of fatty acids in the diet should be included in the development of new strategies to prevent age-related bone disorders.

Scientific contact(s):

  • Véronique Coxam (04 73 62 46 32) Unité de Nutrition Humaine, INRA Site de Theix, 63122 SAINT-GENÈS-CHAMPANELLE, France
  • Yohann Wittrant (04 73 62 47 84) Unité de Nutrition Humaine, INRA Site de Theix, 63122 SAINT-GENÈS-CHAMPANELLE, France
Associated Division(s):
Nutrition, Chemical Food Safety and Consumer Behaviour
Associated Centre(s):