Prostaglandins (PGs) are known to have various effects on bone metabolism.

The supplementation of essential fatty acids (EFAs), the precursors of PGs, leads to increased intestinal calcium absorption and calcium balance.

It is, however, not known whether increased calcium absorption and calcium balance will enhance the calcium content in bone.

Male Sprague-Dawley rats (n = 40) aged 5-12 weeks were supplemented with EFAs. The main dietary EFAs, linoleic acid (LA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) were administered in a ratio of 3:1 as a control group.

The conversion of LA ans ALA to the PG precursors is slow, with the first step, delta-6-desaturation being rate limiting.

Fatty acids beyond this rate-limiting step, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA, n-6) and eicoapentaenioc acid (EPA, n-3), were administered to different groups in the ratios 3:1, 1:1 and 1:3 to explore the impact of different ratios of n-6 and n-3 EFAs.

Intestinal calcium absorption (mg/24 h) increased by 41.5% in the 3:1 supplemented group, compared with the control group. The decrease in urinary calcium (mg/24 h) correlated with the increase in n-3 level.

The calcium balance (mg/24 h) and bone calcium (mg/g bone ash) increased significantly in the 3:1 (41.5% and 24.7%) group, compared with the control.

The increase in bone calcium might be attributed to an EFA-induced increase in circulating PGs.

An increased synthesis of PGs acting on target bone cells, as well as changes in membrane fluidity, may underlie these observations.