Osteoporosis is commonly associated with women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 25% of women over the age of 65 have this disease of thinning, brittle bones. Although a high percentage of adult men are also afflicted with this condition, it is not only more common, but also more debilitating in women.
For both men and women, however, the most significant risk factor for osteoporosis is aging. As we age, our bone density continually decreases, causing our bones to become more fragile. This is because bone is living tissue: old or damaged bone cells continually die and are replaced by new, healthy cells. As we age, our ability to replace old bone cells diminishes, and we become increasingly unable to keep up with the demand for new cells. This loss of bone mass can cause our bones to become so brittle that even a minor bump — or even a strong bout of coughing — can result in a fracture.
Despite decades of research, there is currently no cure for osteoporosis. This is of serious concern for older people because the most common way for a senior to lose their independence is through a fall. And since people with osteoporosis are likely to suffer a fracture if they fall, osteoporosis presents a strong risk of severely diminished quality of life.
Recently a team of scientists from the University of California San Francisco and the University of California, Los Angeles, accidentally discovered a breakthrough in the search for a cure for osteoporosis. The researchers, led by Dr. Holly Ingraham, were studying how estrogen activity in the brain affects metabolism at different stages of life.
The team focused their research on the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that connects the nervous system to the endocrine system. This particular section of the brain plays a fundamental role in regulating a variety of metabolic processes, including hunger, fatigue, sleep, and the control of body temperature.
Dr. Ingraham and her team began their study by blocking the effects of estrogen in the hypothalamus of half of their research animals. It very quickly became apparent that the genetically modified animals began gaining weight and became less active.
Originally the researchers assumed that the weight gain was due to extra fat. However, when they looked more deeply into the situation, they discovered that the weight gain was due to an increase in bone mass. Indeed, many of the animals had increased their bone mass by as much as 800%. According to researcher Dr. Stephanie Correa:
“I was immediately struck by the size of the effect. The two groups didn’t overlap at all, which I had never seen. We knew right away it was a game changer and a new, exciting direction with potential applications for improving women’s health.”
The research team found that the animals’ bones were unusually strong. Indeed, Dr. Ingraham stated: “Our collaborators who study bone for a living said they’d never seen bone this strong. Our current understanding of how the body controls bone growth can’t explain this. We may have uncovered a completely new pathway that could be used to improve bone strength in older women and others with fragile bones.”” The team’s findings were published in the journal Nature Communications.
A fascinating aspect of this breakthrough was that the genetic modification only caused bone mass to increase in female mice. It is noteworthy that most neuroscientists use male mice for their research, which may explain why this effect had never been seen before.
The researchers expect that they will soon be able to demonstrate that the brain releases a specific circulating factor that triggers enhanced bone growth, and expect this insight to lead to development of new drugs that will reverse or even cure osteoporosis.
Although this breakthrough only applies to females, it is expected that a complete understanding of this new pathway will result in medications that will be able to help reverse osteoporosis in males as well.
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Regency care centers also offer a full continuum of care, including exceptional short-term rehabilitation, sub-acute care, long-term nursing, a range of specialty programs and complex clinical services, hospice care and temporary respite care. Our compassionate, personalized approach has established our long-standing and unparalleled reputation for excellence.
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