New research from Ohio State University does suggest that following an anti-inflammatory diet can strengthen women’s bones and help prevent fractures. The investigators cited a growing body of evidence indicating that factors that increase inflammation in the body can also increase the risk of osteoporosis, the loss of bone mass that makes fractures more likely. Earlier studies have linked high levels of inflammatory markers in the blood to bone loss and fractures in older women and men.
For the new report, the researchers used data from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), a 15-year investigation that looked at the most common causes of death, disability and poor quality of life in post-menopausal women. Between 1993 and 1998, the WHI enrolled 161,808 generally healthy women age 50 to 79. The Ohio State team reviewed the dietary information from 160,191 women and assigned inflammation scores based on 32 foods that the women reported eating in the 3 months before enrolling. The researchers also collected bone density data from 10,290 women and kept track of fractures among all 160,191 in the study.
A correlation was found between pro-inflammatory diets (as determined by a scoring system called the Dietary Inflammation Index) and fractures among the youngest white women in the study. There was a 50 percent higher risk of hip fractures among those whose diets were ranked as “high inflammatory,” compared to white women in the same age range whose diets were considered least inflammatory.
Overall, the study found that women who started off with lower bone density but followed the least inflammatory diets lost less bone density during 6 years of follow-up than women with the most inflammatory diets.
Overall, however, high inflammatory diets were not associated with more fractures. As a matter of fact, women whose diets were most inflammatory had a slightly lower risk of fractures than others in the study. One possible explanation for this finding is that women whose diets were least inflammatory were more physically active and therefore at slightly greater risk of falls.
Because the study was observational, it does not prove that an anti-inflammatory diet was responsible for the bone health benefits seen.
We know that chronic inflammation is the root cause of many illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, and as research now suggests, it appears to increase the risk of osteoporosis. Learning how specific foods influence the inflammatory process is an essential first step for containing it and reducing long-term disease risks, and a prudent diet may be the best reliable strategy for preserving bone health. Learn more about my anti-inflammatory diet.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Tonya Orchard et al, “Dietary Inflammatory Index, Bone Mineral Density and Risk of Fracture in Postmenopausal Women: Results from the Women’s Health Initiative.” Journal of Bone Mineral Research, December 26, 2016,