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On the Verge of a Breakthrough?

September 30, 2020

A look at new findings and potential new treatments

Osteoporosis is a condition many people are aware of, but many are unaware of the risks, preventions and treatments available. These findings get highlighted each fall as the medical community takes a closer look on World Osteoporosis Day. 

Osteoporosis Facts:

  • One out of two women over 50 will suffer an osteoporosis-related fracture in her lifetime.
  • In women in their 50s, 58% have low bone mass, and this percentage increases with age.
  • In the United States, nearly 25% of females over the age of 65 have osteoporosis. In males of the same age, this figure is 5%. 
  • Osteoporosis causes 1.5 million fractures every year in the US.

It can be disheartening to realize that today, there is no known cure for this condition. However, some interesting new studies have emerged in the management and potential prevention of the disease.  

Osteoporosis and the “Love Hormone”

In Brazil, recent experiments in female rats suggest that the hormone oxytocin (commonly known as the “love” hormone) can prevent loss of bone density and strength. Further studies could enable the clinical use of oxytocin to prevent osteoporosis.

The new study focused on a part of the hip called the femoral neck, which is the most common site for a fracture, in older female rats. The team treated the perimenopausal rats with oxytocin, a hormone most commonly associated with feelings of affection, bonding, and empathy. Oxytocin is secreted by bone cells and is associated with bone metabolism in females, but levels of this hormone decline during menopause. 

About one month after the treatments, scientists analyzed blood and tissue samples and compared them against a control group. The rats that received oxytocin showed no loss of bone density and had biochemical markers of bone renewal in their blood. The bone itself was also more robust in the treated animals. These findings may open the door to use of oxytocin therapy in humans diagnosed with osteoporosis.

The Role of Osteoclasts and Osteoblasts

A research team from the National University of Singapore has identified a new avenue to maintain bone health while reducing bone resorption. 

Osteoporosis is caused by excessive activity of bone resorbing cells, called osteoclasts, and reduced activity of bone-forming cells, called osteoblasts. In healthy individuals, a balanced activity of these two cell types allows constant bone turnover to maintain healthy and strong bones. 

The research team showed that a small protein, chemokine CXCL9, plays a role in osteoporosis when it is released from bone-forming osteoblasts. Under osteoporotic conditions, CXCL9 diffuses towards reservoirs that hold osteoclast precursors. These osteoclast precursors produce a receptor, CXCR3, on their cell surface. Upon activation by CXCL9, the osteoclast precursors are mobilized and migrate towards the bone matrix, where they start breaking down the bone.

Two small-molecule inhibitors are known to block CXCR3 activity, and the Singapore research team showed that these inhibitors are highly effective in blocking osteoclast recruitment and protecting bone from osteoporotic effects. The researchers were encouraged by the findings:

“Based on our studies, [the inhibitors] lowered the number of formed osteoclasts by more than 50% when administered at the efficient dosage,” Christoph Winkler, Associate Professor of the university’s Department of Biological Sciences, said. “We propose that the two small-molecule antagonists can be used to modulate or adjust excessive osteoclast numbers in osteoporosis patients in a dose-dependent fashion.”

Osteoporosis and Celiac Disease

Another area getting a closer look is the prevalence of osteoporosis and osteopenia in patients newly diagnosed with celiac disease. When a person with celiac disease eats gluten, the villi that line the small intestine sustain damage. This damage can prevent absorption of calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients needed to produce healthy bones.

Statistics have shown this may affect as many as 75% of those battling celiac disease. Because of this, American Gastroenterological Association recommends that people with celiac disease undergo bone density tests. Bone mineral density and vitamin D deficiencies have been found to improve on a strict gluten-free diet, but still may require supplementation to correct deficiencies.

To stay up-to-date on new treatments and to learn more about what you can do to help prevent or manage osteoporosis, visit the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

Osteoporosis can lead to injury and disability among older adults. If you know someone who can no longer care for themselves at home, it may be time to call Oasis Senior Advisors. Every senior is unique, and your local Oasis advisor takes multiple factors into consideration as they help you make difficult decisions about senior living and long-term care options.