Breakthroughs in Osteoporosis

Research is pointing to some surprising treatments for osteoporosis, including more vitamin B12 and green tea but less Coke and Pepsi.

Diuretics

A new study has shown that taking diuretics may help to protect against hip fractures. Dutch researchers  studied the records of nearly 8000 men and women over the age of 55 and concluded that those who’d been taking the diuretic thiazide for at least a year had, on average, a 50 percent lower risk of hip fractures.

The finding makes sense because some diuretics are thought to reduce calcium loss by cutting down on the amount of calcium excreted in urine. Although the study’s authors consider long-term diuretic use to be safe under a doctor’s supervision, they say further study is needed before diuretics can be recommended as an osteoporosis treatment for people who don’t have high blood pressure.

Vitamin B12

One of the 11 members of the B-vitamin family, vitamin B12 has recently been shown to play a bigger role than previously thought in keeping bones strong as you grow older.

Research from the University of California, San Francisco, looked at how much vitamin B12 was circulating in the bloodstreams of 83 volunteers aged 64 and over. Measurements taken over a six-year period yielded a clear finding: those people who had the highest blood levels of vitamin B12 showed the least loss of density in their hips over that period, while those with the lowest levels of B12 showed the most bone loss.

At this stage, no one is really sure why a lack of B12 speeds bone loss. But the finding is important because B12 deficiency is more common in women over 60—the people most at risk of osteoporosis and hip fractures.

Vitamin B12 deficiency is sometimes due to pernicious anaemia, an impaired ability for the body to absorb B12. But it’s also possible that you’re simply not getting enough shellfish, milk, cheese, eggs, organ meats and other sources of vitamin B12 from your diet. Even more likely, your digestive system may not be absorbing the vitamin B12 from these foods–which means you may benefit from a supplement.

All in the Genes

Researchers have discovered that several variations of the common gene BMP2 triples the osteoporosis risk of anyone who has it.

The easily traceable genealogy of Iceland’s population played a part in the discovery. By scanning the  genomes of 207 Icelandic families, scientists were able to isolate genes common to the osteoporosis patients (living and long dead) who were analysed.

The finding does not mean that BMP2 is “the” osteoporosis gene, since researchers suspect that several other genes have variants that also contribute to osteoporosis risk. Nor does it doom its owners to brittle bones and certain fractures. It does, however, issue a loud wake-up call to people with any of the high-risk variations of the gene.

Take Time for Tea

A 2006 study in Taiwan found that long-time tea drinkers had the highest overall bone density. Researchers determined that drinking two cups a day of black, green or oolong tea for at least six years protected the bones. This may be because tea contains flavonoids, oestrogen-like substances that may keep bones strong.

Love Cola? Your Bones Don’t

It doesn’t matter if your favourite is Pepsi, Coke or no-name; diet or caffeine-free: colas lowers bone density in women. A 2006 study, by researchers at Tufts University in Boston, pinpoints cola as the problem. "The more cola that women drank, the lower their bone mineral density was," says Katherine Tucker, PhD, who is a corresponding author of the study. "However, we did not see an association with bone mineral density loss for women who drank carbonated beverages that were not cola."

Researchers suspect that the high levels in phosphoric acid found in colas can interfere with bone formation.

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