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Omega-3 Increases Bone Strength in Laying Hens: Study

Jan 29, 2013 05:01 AM EST
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Omega-3 fatty acids help in improving the bone health of laying hens, according to a new study.

Bone damage is a significant problem faced by millions of hens every year. "Bone fragility due to osteoporotic changes in laying hens is a major economic and welfare problem, with our recent estimates of breakage rates indicating up to 95 percent of free range hens suffer breaks during lay in some housing systems," John Tarlton, Senior Research Fellow in Veterinary Pathology and Infection and Immunity, said in a statement.

Omega-3 fatty acids (also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs)) are considered to have various health benefits. They are found in fish oil and flaxseed, and play a crucial role in brain function, as well as normal growth and development. They can also help reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and arthritis.

A new study by researchers from University of Bristol, U.K., has found that omega-3 helps laying hens to avoid bone damage. For a period of over three years, the research team led by Tarlton probed the health benefits of omega-3 supplemented diets in laying hens.

Free range hens housed in full-scale commercial systems were given diet supplements with omega-3 alpha linolenic acid. The team analyzed the full biochemical and cellular mechanisms through which omega-3 is able to improve bone health. They also compared the health benefits of omega-3 with that of standard diets rich in omega-6 linoleic acid.

They found that the hens supplemented with omega-3 had a 40 to 60 percent reduction in keel bone breakage rate and a corresponding reduction in breakage severity than those hens supplied with standard diets. There was also a significant improvement in bone structure and an increase in bone strength in these free range laying hens. Osteoblast and osteoclast markers showed increases with the omega-3 diets, indicating an enhanced bone turnover.

Researchers believe that their findings on the mechanisms of improved bone strength might also help human patients suffering from osteoporosis.

The findings of the study, "Reduced bone breakage and increased bone strength in free range laying hens fed omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplemented diets", are published in the journal BONE.

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