Study Says Depression May Weaken Bones
Loss of Bone Mass Seen in Depressed Mice, Suggesting Osteoporosis Risk
WebMD News Archive
Oct. 30, 2006 -- Depression from ongoing stress may weaken bones, making
osteoporosis more likely, a new study shows.
The study is based on mice, not people, but it indicates a mind-bone link,
the researchers note.
The findings "point for the first time to depression as an important
element in causing bone mass loss and osteoporosis," says Raz Yirmiya, PhD,
MSc, of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in a university news release.
"The connection between the brain and the skeleton in general, and the
influence of depression on bone mass in particular, is a new area of research
about which we still know very little," says Yirmiya, a psychology
professor and one of the researchers on the study.
Their findings appear in Proceedings of the National Academy of
Depression & Bones
Depression has been linked to low bone mass and osteoporosis in the past,
the researchers note.
But, they say, until now it hasn't been clear which comes first --
depression or osteoporosis.
Yirmiya's team studied the link in male mice. Some of the mice lived in
stressful conditions, with dirty cages, bright lights, or loud noises. The
other mice lived in clean cages without those stresses.
The stressed-out mice acted depressed. Compared with the nondepressed mice,
they drank less of the sugary water in their cages and didn't respond as much
when the scientists put a young mouse in their cage.
After four weeks, the depressed mice had lost bone density, the study shows.
The problem: They had a drop in bone-building cells called osteoblasts.
The nondepressed mice had no such bone problems.
Bones are always remodeling themselves. They build themselves up and break
themselves down over and over again.
If that process goes awry, and the breakdown outpaces the buildup, bones
become less dense.
Such porous bones are less supportive than denser bones. Osteoporosis
and serious breaks can be the result.
The researchers spiked some of the depressed mice's drinking water with
imipramine, an antidepressant.
Imipramine's brand names include Janimine, Tipramine, and Tofranil; generic
versions are also available.
Imipramine is a tricyclic antidepressant, one of a group of older drugs that
predate selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Paxil, Prozac,
When the depressed mice drank water laced with imipramine, their depressioneased and
their bone loss stopped.
The researchers found that the depressed mice that hadn't gotten imipramine
had high bone levels of the stress hormone norepinephrine.
When the scientists blocked norepinephrine in those mice, their bone loss
The findings suggest a link between the bones and the brain, Yirmiya's team
concludes – albeit one not studied in people yet.
The researchers aren't suggesting any particular treatment for depression or
osteoporosis. Your doctor can provide information on treatments if needed.
In its news release, Hebrew University says its technology transfer company
has applied for a patent for osteoporosis treatment using antidepressants.