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Friday, 23 June, 2000, 00:29 GMT 01:29 UK
Cholesterol drugs beat bone disease
Bone scan
Osteoporosis reduces the strength of bones
The long-term use of some cholesterol-reducing drugs may prevent bone fractures, say researchers.

The brittle bone disease osteoporosis increases the risk of fractures by reducing the mineral density of bones.

Researchers have found cholesterol drugs known as statins can act to increase bone mineral density (BMD) making the bones stronger and less vulnerable to fractures.

Statin use has been shown to be associated with increased BMD in the upper region of the thigh bone in tests on rats and human cells.

Now scientists have found evidence of the same effect in female patients.

There may be new mechanisms by which we can improve the strength of bone and prevent osteoporosis

Dr Tim Spector, St Thomas' Hospital

A team from Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, studied the impact of statin use on women aged 60 years and over.

They identified 928 cases of broken bones and compared them with 2,747 women who had suffered no fractures.

Women who had used statins on at least 13 occasions in the previous two years had a decreased risk of fractures.

Lead researcher Dr Arnold Chan said: "Statins seem to be protective against non-pathological fracture among older women, which is compatible with the hypothesis that statins increase bone mineral density in human beings and thereby decrease the risk of osteoporotic fractures".

British study

The findings were echoed in a separate study at St Thomas' Hospital, London.

Researchers found postmenopausal women who took statins significantly increased their BMD.

Some 41 women taking statins to reduce cholesterol had an approximately 8% higher hip and spine BMD compared to women of a similar age who were not taking the drugs.

Dr Tim Spector, from St Thomas' Hospital, said: "These exciting results suggest there may be new mechanisms by which we can improve the strength of bone and prevent osteoporosis."

Osteoporosis affects one in three women and one in ten men.

A spokesman for the National Osteoporosis Society (NOS) welcomed the research.

"The NOS looks forward to further studies investigating the effect of statins on bone formation and a potential role in the management of the disease."

Dr Jon Tobias, of the rheumatology department at Bristol Royal Infirmary said that statins would probably be no more effective than drugs currently prescribed for osteoporosis.

He said: "Statins are thought to act through the same biochemical pathways as drugs like alendronate and risedronate, which stimulate premature death of osteoclasts, the cells responsible for breaking down bone.

"In addition, recent research suggests that statins may act by stimulating the release of certain growth factors, leading to enhanced production of osteoblasts, which are the cells responsible for laying down new bone.

"Thus, statins may be capable of altering the balance between bone deposition and breakdown, leading to a net gain in bone."

The research was published in The Lancet medical journal.

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