Prebiotics, Probiotics, Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids, and Bone Health

  • Marlena C. KrugerEmail author
  • Magdalena Coetzee


Improvement of peak bone mass in younger age and reducing bone loss in aging are two strategies to reduce the risk for developing osteoporosis. Modulating intestinal calcium absorption by modifying the diet can contribute to improvement of bone mass, and reduction of inflammation during menopause can help reduce the risk of bone loss. Calcium absorption takes place via an active process in the duodenum, modulated by active vitamin D, or by passive paracellular absorption that can take place throughout the intestine. Prebiotics are nondigestible carbohydrates which promote bacterial growth in the colon. Fermentation by the bacteria results in the production of organic acids which reduce the pH in the large intestine and may improve solubility of minerals increasing passive diffusion via the paracellular pathway. Increased cell proliferation and hypertrophy of the colon wall have also been reported, while some authors also report increased expression of calbindin-D9k, the protein responsible for carrying calcium through the intestinal cell. While the mechanism by which probiotics improve calcium absorption has not been proven, it is possible that the mechanism is similar to that of the prebiotics. Another dietary component that can affect intestinal calcium absorption is long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA). These have been shown to improve calcium absorption by modulating the action of vitamin D in the intestine, modulating intestinal membrane composition and thereby increasing activity of the membrane pumps responsible for transport of minerals across the basolateral membranes. The omega 3 LCPUFAs also have specific effects on bone cells and reduce inflammation which may be of benefit to bone especially during menopause. In addition, LCPUFAs may have a prebiotic effect, modulating gut microflora. The possible contribution of these dietary components to calcium absorption and bone maintenance in rats and younger as well as older adults is presented.


Calcium absorption Prebiotics Probiotics Gut microflora Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids Bone density Rats Humans 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Human Nutrition and Physiology, Institute of Food, Nutrition and Human HealthMassey UniversityPalmerston NorthNew Zealand
  2. 2.Department of PhysiologyUniversity of PretoriaPretoriaSouth Africa

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