How To Increase Your Omega 3 Fatty Acid Intake That Protect Your Bones

The average person, eating a typical Western diet, consumes a radically different balance of omega fatty acids than our evolutionary ancestors did.

Restoring the balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in your diet reduces inflammation, lowers risk for coronary heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other chronic conditions. Additionally, balancing their intake helps to prevent fractures.

Studies have shown that consuming significantly more omega-6 than omega-3 can lead to bone density declines and other unwanted health problems. Today we’ll review the research that confirms this, and we’ll look at the nine best plant-based food sources of omega-3.

Omega 3, Omega 6, And Your Health

Omega-3 and omega-6 are the two classes of essential fatty acids (EFAs). They are called essential because we can’t synthesize them. Here are some quick facts about these EFAs.1

  • What makes them different is the location of their molecular double bonds
  • Omega 6 acid in its basic form is linoleic acid (LA)
  • Omega 3 acid in its basic form is α-linolenic acid (ALA)
  • We metabolize these parent compounds into longer-chain fatty acids that perform different functions throughout the body
  • LA becomes gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), dihomogramma-linolenic acid (DGLA) and arachidonic acid (AA), among others
  • ALA becomes eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) among others
  • EFAs are required to maintain cell membranes, visual, and neurological function
  • Early humans consumed an Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio of about 1:1
  • Contemporary Western diets typically contain ratios as high as 17:1

That large EFA imbalance is responsible for a slew of health problems. They include:1,2

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Cancer
  • Inflammatory disease
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Neurodegenerative diseases
  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • Hypertension
  • Asthma
  • Osteoporosis

Studies show that the incidence of these often chronic conditions can be reduced by correcting the dietary imbalance of EFAs. Many of those positive effects are thought to be the result of a reduction in inflammation.3

Synopsis

Omega 6 and omega 3 are essential fatty acids that our body converts to other fatty acids used for the maintenance of our cell membranes and bodily functions. Western diets that include many times more omega 6 than omega 3 result in health problems ranging from coronary heart disease to diabetes, to osteoporosis.

How Essential Fatty Acids Affect Bone Density

Many studies have linked EFA deficiency to bone loss. One study, which included 1532 participants over the course of 4 years, found an inverse association between the ratio of dietary LA to ALA and bone mass density (BMD) at the hip- regardless of the participant’s age, lifestyle or body mass index. This means that the bigger the omega-6 to omega-3 divide, the lower the BMD.4

This relationship has to do with cytokines.

Cytokines are secreted proteins that induce cells to proliferate and differentiate. There are many kinds, but the cytokines interleukin-1 (IL-1), interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumor
necrosis factor alpha (TNFα) increase osteoclast formation, activity, and lifespan.

Osteoclasts are cells responsible for removing old bone material. In a healthy body, their work is balanced against that of osteoblasts, cells that deposit new bone.

When our bodies contain an imbalance of omega-6 to omega-3 EFAs, it changes the function of our cell membranes and increases the production of the cytokines IL-1, IL-6, and TNFα.

A glut of IL-1, IL-6 and TNFα ramps up the production and activity of osteoclasts, which throws off the balance of the bone remodeling process, resulting in reduced BMD and increased risk of fracture.

Synoposis

A dietary EFA imbalance causes bone loss because it increases the cellular production of cytokines that disrupt the balance of our natural bone remodeling process.

You Can Restore Balance, And Recover Bone Density

Just as a diet with an imbalance of EPAs can result in overproduction of cytokines that remove bone material, consuming increased amounts of foods high in omega-3 fatty acids can restore balance to EPA levels and decrease the production of these cytokines.5

In one study, titled “The effect of dietary supplementation with n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on the synthesis of interleukin-1 and tumor necrosis factor by mononuclear cells” researchers gave nine participants 18g of omega-3-rich fish-oil concentrate in addition to their regular Western diet for six weeks. At the end of the six weeks, the participants IL-1 beta level was reduced by 43%. Ten weeks after the supplementation had ended, the reduction had increased to 61%. After an additional ten weeks with no supplementation, the IL-1 beta levels had returned to their pre-supplementation levels. IL-1 alpha and TNFα showed similar results.6

A 1998 study conducted with 65 women with a mean age of 79.5 examined the impact on bone mineral density of receiving gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) supplements versus a coconut oil placebo capsule.

The results showed that supplementation with these omega-3 EFAs resulted in increases of femoral bone density and lumbar spine density and are safe to administer for prolonged periods of time.7

Synopsis

The evidence shows that a dietary increase of omega-3 fatty acids not only reduces the production of the cytokines that disrupt the bone-remodeling process, it increases bone mineral density.

How To Get More Omega-3 EFAs In Your Diet

You’ve probably heard about taking fish-oil, or eating more fish as a way of increasing your omega-3 intake. Although several fish are Foundation Foods for this very reason, they are still acidifying animal products.

You can also get the omega-3 you need by incorporating more of these plant-based omega-3 rich foods into your diet, all of which, except for beans and winter squash, are alkalizing.

1. Flaxseed

  • 6288mg Omega 3 per ounce
  • 1655mg of Omega 6 per ounce
  • Flax oil contains 7196mg omega 3 per ounce
  • Best plant source of lignans that reduce LDL cholesterol and boost immune function
  • Source of Foundation Supplements manganese, copper, Vitamin B1, and magnesium

2. Chia seeds

  • 4915mg of Omega 3 per ounce
  • 1620mg of Omega 6 per ounce
  • Rich in calcium, fiber and manganese

3. Leafy Greens

  • 1 cup cooked spinach contains 352mg omega 3 but barely any omega 6
  • Broccoli rabe, collards, kale and grape leaves are also good sources
  • Rich in Vitamins A,C,K, and E
  • Good source of calcium, magnesium, manganese, fiber and potassium

4. Cruciferous Vegetables

  • Cauliflower leads the pack with 208mg omega 3 and 62mg omega 6 per cooked cup
  • broccoli and brussel sprouts are close runners up
  • Broccoli in particular is rich in calcium, manganese, potassium, copper and Vitamins A,K,E and B vitamins

5. Winter Squash

  • 338mg omega 3 per ounce
  • 203mg omega 6 per ounce
  • Also rich in carotenoids that reduce fracture risk

6. Beans

  • Mungo beans contain 603mg omega 3 but just 43 mg omega 6 per cooked cup
  • French beans and navy beans are also rich in omega 3
  • Good source of protein
  • Iron rich (especially kidney beans and chickpeas)

7. Mangoes

  • 77mg omega 3 per fruit
  • 29 mg omega 6 per fruit
  • Great source of Vitamins C, B6 and A
  • Contains copper and potassium

8. Honeydew Melon

  • 58mg omega 3 per cup
  • 46mg omega 6 per cup
  • Rich source of powerful antioxidant superoxide dismutase

9. Herbs & Spices

  • Most spices and herbs have a strong EFA ratio
  • Cloves: 86mg omega 3 and 52mg omega 6 per 2g
  • Oregano: 73mg and 18mg per 2g
  • Marjoram 49mg and 18mg per 2g
  • Tarragon 44mg and 11mg per 2g
  • Parsley is rich in Vitamins C, K and B-complex
  • Cilantro contains Vitamins C and A, plus Zinc, calcium and magnesium
  • Peppermint offers copper, manganese, calcium and Vitamin C
  • Because we eat relatively small amounts of these spices, they can’t tip the scales alone, but every bit helps in the fight to restore balance

Synopsis

You don’t have to load up on acidifying fish to get an omega-3 rich meal that supports healthy bone-remodeling. Foods like flaxseed, leafy greens and mangoes all contain more omega-3 than omega-6, leading you on the path to strong bones.

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Savers are accustomed to eating meals containing the foods listed above. It’s a delicious part of a pH-balanced diet. Today you’ve expanded your knowledge of EFAs to help you maintain a desirable omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. This improved dietary practice reduces inflammation and keeps osteoclast synthesis in check, balancing bone remodeling and allowing your bones to increase in density.

Till next time,

References

1A. P. Simopoulos. “The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids” Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy. Volume 56, Issue 8, October 2002, Pages 365-379. Web. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0753332202002536

2Artemis P. Simopoulos. “The omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid ratio: health implications.” OCL Volume 17, Number 5, 267 – 275. 15 September 2010. Web. https://www.ocl-journal.org/articles/ocl/full_html/2010/05/ocl2010175p267/ocl2010175p267.html

3A. P. Simopoulos. Omega-3 fatty acids in inflammation and autoimmune diseases. J Am Coll Nutr 2002 ; 21 : 495–505. Web. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&dopt=Abstract&list_uids=12480795

4Weiss et al. “Rancho Bernardo Study.” Am J Clin Nutr 81: 934. 2005

5Cleland LG, James MJ, Neumann MA, et al. “Linoleate inhibits EPA incorporation from
dietary fish-oil supplements in human subjects.” Am J Clin Nutr 1992;55:395-399.
Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1310374

6Endres S. “The effect of dietary supplementation with n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on the synthesis of interleukin-1 and tumor necrosis factor by mononuclear cells.” N Engl J Med. 1989 Feb 2;320(5):265-71 Web.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2783477

7Kruger MC. “Calcium gamma-linolenic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid supplementation in senile osteoporosis.” Aging (Milano). 1998 Oct;10(5):385-94. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9932142

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11 comments. Leave Yours Now →
  1. Renaye Andrews June 15, 2018, 2:46 am

    Hi Vivian, I’m grateful for all your helpful information and exercises through email. They are extremely helpful! Please consider a DVD,for seniors to do at home. I live in a senior facility and most of us have limited data on their phone,making it difficult to watch the online exercises. I would definitely do them.!! Thankyou so much for your consideration in this matter. Warm regards, Renaye Andrews

  2. Greg June 15, 2018, 2:23 am

    I often wonder, even though most Americans seem to have an imbalance between omega-3s and omega-6s with too much of the 6s, would it be possible for a relatively healthy eater to get out of balance in the other direction, e.g. by using a lot of flax seed oil and eating a lot of the high-3 and low-3 foods in your list above, in addition to eating fatty fish like wild-caught salmon or sardines two or three times a week? If so, what would the consequences be? Would it detract from bone health in some other way?

    • Greg June 15, 2018, 2:26 am

      Oops! Of course what I meant to say was, “high-3 and low-6 foods.”

  3. Joyce P June 15, 2018, 12:12 am

    Is the almond milk I buy in the store a good source of calcium?

  4. Jean Oldenburg June 14, 2018, 4:29 pm

    Dear Vivian,
    I lost the information you sent about the new video put out by NOC and financed by a drug company. I am a rep. for the Osteo.Council for the state of NJ and we are having a meeting tomorrow 6/15/18 would you be able to resend me that email so I could discuss it at this meeting.
    Thanks for keeping me on track with valuable information.
    Jean

    • Save Institute Customer Support June 14, 2018, 8:39 pm

      Hi Jean,

      Please check your inbox for a message from Customer Support. 🙂

  5. Natalia June 14, 2018, 2:29 pm

    I never knew that fruits vegetables and beans have omega 3. That’s amazing especailly because I’m vegan. Thank you so much for sharing this valuable information, Vivian!

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA June 14, 2018, 8:30 pm

      You’re most welcome, Natalia!

  6. Julie June 14, 2018, 11:22 am

    I have been looking at hemp oil as it is often so highly praised. However, on investigation of hemp products (hemp flour etc) I have noticed how the omega 6 content is most often much higher than the omega 3 content. Surely this isn’t good for inflammation? I have come to the conclusion that only a good quality hemp oil has a better balance of the two omegas and that this could be a bit of trap for people unless they are diligent label readers like me!

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA June 14, 2018, 12:29 pm

      Good for you for checking the details on hemp oil, Julie! Hemp oil may in fact have other constituents that give it anti-inflammatory properties, such as cannabinoids.

      • Julie June 16, 2018, 3:55 am

        That’s interesting,thank you Vivian!

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