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The effect of polyunsaturated fatty acids on bone health

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 February 2011

Marcello Maggio
Section of Geriatrics, University of Parma, Parma
Andrea Artoni
Section of Geriatrics, University of Parma, Parma
Fulvio Lauretani
Geriatric-Rehabilitation Department, University Hospital, Parma
Carmelinda Ruggiero
Institute of Gerontology and Geriatrics, University of Perugia, Italy
Tommy Cederholm
Section of Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism, Uppsala University, Sweden
Antonio Cherubini
Institute of Gerontology and Geriatrics, University of Perugia, Italy
Gian Paolo Ceda
Section of Geriatrics, University of Parma, Parma


The essential polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are divided into two classes, n-3 (ω-3) and n-6 (ω-6) and their dietary precursors are α-linolenic (ALA) and linoleic acid (LA), respectively. PUFAs are precursors of a wide range of metabolites, for example eicosanoids like prostaglandins and leukotrienes, which play critical roles in the regulation of a variety of biological processes, including bone metabolism.

A large body of evidence supports an effect of PUFA on bone metabolism which may be mediated by regulation of osteoblastogenesis and osteoclast activity, change of membrane function, decrease in inflammatory cytokines, such as interleukin-1 (IL-1), interleukin-6 (IL-6), and tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α), modulation of peroxisome proliferators-activated receptor γ (PPARγ) and influence in NO secretion and NO synthase.

Animal studies have shown that a higher dietary omega-3/omega-6 fatty acids ratio is associated with beneficial effects on bone health. Human studies conducted in elderly subjects suggest that omega-3 instead of omega-6 has a positive effect on bone metabolism. In spite of increasing evidence, studies conducted in humans do not allow us to draw a definitive conclusion on the usefulness of PUFAs in clinical practice.

Biological gerontology
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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