An Amazing Treatment for Osteoporosis May Be Coming
The results of a groundbreaking study discovered that blocking certain receptors in the brain led to the growth of significantly stronger bones. Could a new osteoporosis treatment be on the horizon?
Osteoporosis, which is primarily a disease of old age, can cause progressive weakening of the bones.
Over time, bones become so porous that even minor impacts – just a cough or sneeze – can cause a fracture.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), osteoporosis affects almost 1 in 4 women aged 65 and older in the US.
Unfortunately, there is no definitive treatment for osteoporosis in the light of current information. Current treatments focus on reducing the risk of fractures, but cannot slow the progression of the condition.
In a healthy person, the body breaks down old or damaged bone and replaces it with new bone.
However, as you get older, this cycle gets faster. Thus, more bone is broken down than the body can regain. This leads to progressively weaker bones and eventually osteoporosis.
A New Role for Estrogen
Estrogen has a wide range of functions in the human body, particularly reproductive. This hormone also works in the brain, but scientists currently know very little about its functions there.
Recently, scientists from the University of San Francisco and the University of California conducted a series of studies to learn more about estrogen in the brain.
Researchers were primarily interested in how estrogen’s activity in the brain alters metabolism at different stages of life.
Specifically, they were looking at the function of estrogen-sensitive neurons in the hypothalamus. This is the part of the brain that connects the nervous system to the endocrine (hormone) system.
The hypothalamus plays an important role in regulating metabolic processes, such as helping control body temperature, hunger, sleep, fatigue, and circadian rhythms.
Blocking Estrogen in the Brain
The scientists blocked the effects of estrogen in the animals’ hypothalamus. When they did, the animals gained weight and became less active.
At first, the scientists assumed that the added weight would account for the extra fat or muscle tissue.
However, upon further examination, they found that the extra weight was due to increased bone mass. Some of the animals had increased their total bone mass by 800 percent.
When the researchers tested the mouse bones, they found they were particularly strong. In fact, according to researcher Ingraham:
“Our collaborators, who have studied bone for life, said they had never seen bone as strong.”
The study results were published in the journal Nature Communications. As Ingraham says, “Our current understanding of how the body controls bone growth cannot explain this.”
He adds that “we may have found an entirely new way to increase bone strength in older women and individuals with weak bones.”
In follow-up studies, the researchers focused on a specific area of the hypothalamus that was thought to have this incredible effect on bone: the arcuate nucleus.
Because the removal of estrogen receptors in this area causes bone growth, they normally believe that these cells are siphoning off energy and resources from bone growth to be used elsewhere in the body.
This finding is exciting and surprising and occurred only in female mice.
Previously, neuroscientists have limited most studies to male mice and have done a few estrogen studies, which may explain why this has never been seen before.
The researchers extended their experiments to understand how bone density changes over the lifespan of a mouse. They noticed that in these mice, bone density was maintained throughout old age.
Further testing this mechanism, the scientists deleted curved estrogen receptors in a mouse model of osteoporosis. In mice that lost 70 percent of their bone mass, their bone density increased by 50 percent in just a few weeks.
Estrogen in the blood increases bone growth; However, in the hypothalamus, it appears to have the opposite effect.
Ingraham points out that “after puberty, the estrogen system in the female brain can contribute to women’s risk of weakened bones as they age, as resources are actively diverted from bone growth and reproduction to women.”
More studies will be needed as the results are surprising and novel; However, they have opened up some exciting new avenues for osteoporosis researchers.
If our next experiments show that the brain is releasing a new circulatory factor that triggers increased bone growth, we may have a chance to develop a drug that prevents osteoporosis.
MedicalNewsToday, Osteoporosis breakthrough: Bone mass increased by 800 percent, 2018