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Saturday, 3 August, 2002, 22:58 GMT 23:58 UK
Babies could hold key to osteoporosis
Dr Javaid and new mother and baby
Bone research goes back to the womb (Newsquest Media Group ltd)
Scientists are studying babies in the womb to try and establish the cause of osteoporosis and reduce fractures in the elderly.

The researchers from Southampton University are to look at whether babies' bone growth can be affected by their mother's diet - even when they are in the womb.

The research has now gone full circle as it originally looked at the dietary habits of the elderly and how their food intake affected their bone structure.


Our most recent studies have suggested that skeletal growth might depend on factors which act during very early life indeed, while we are in the womb

Dr Kassim Javaid

Osteoporosis affects most women after the menopause when they are producing less of the hormone oestrogen, which helps maintain bone density.

It affects one in three women and one in 12 men in the UK - an estimated three million people.

It makes the bones extremely fragile and more likely to fracture, even after a simple fall.

Taking replacement oestrogen can halt or slow the loss of bone density and a healthy diet that is rich in calcium can also help ward off the disease.

The researchers will study a group of about 500 pregnant women and quiz them about their diet, smoking habit and exercise levels.

Scan

The women will also have their body size and skeleton measured.

Some of their babies will then be given a bone density scan after birth to see how much bone they have and how their skeleton grew during the pregnancy.

The research is being carried out by research fellow Dr Kassim Javaid, under the direction of Professor Cyrus Cooper, professor of Rheumatology, Medical Research Council Environmental Epidemiology Unit, at Southampton General Hospital.

Dr Javaid said maternal influences could have a strong impact on bone growth.

"In Britain today, 50-year-old women have an almost 40% chance of sustaining one of these fractures, which typically occur at the hip, spine or wrist.

Skeleton
Diet early in life could influence bone growth
"Our research programme is aimed at reducing the risk of these fractures in future generations of the elderly.

"Our most recent studies have suggested that skeletal growth might depend on factors which act during very early life indeed, while we are in the womb.

"As a consequence, we have designed a study exploring mothers' lifestyle (diet, exercise, smoking and alcohol consumption) with the bone growth of their newborn babies.

"Our results suggest that there are important maternal influences on neonatal bone growth."

Dr Javaid said they hoped to find out at what stage the damage started.

"This information will allow us to identify those people who are at a higher risk of osteoporosis early in their life, perhaps at birth.

"We would then be able to target them for dietary and other lifestyle interventions, to help to compensate and, hopefully, reduce their risk of osteoporosis later in life."

Womb

A spokeswoman for the Arthritis Research Campaign, which has put more than 1m into the research in Southampton over the last decade, said the research was extremely significant.

"Osteoporosis is seen as an older person's disease, yet the research in Southampton has shown that its origins start in the womb.

"Professor Cooper's research could have enormous significance in helping to reduce incidence of osteoporosis for future generations."

The National Osteoporosis Society, which has already funded some of Professor Cooper's research, said the latest findings would help encourage parents to carefully monitor their child's diet.

"If you can get mothers and fathers to think about bone health in the womb then that is better."

See also:

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