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Good Vibrations continued...

At present, both American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts try to fight bone loss with intense exercise programs. They spend four hours a day doing high-impact, bone-building workouts, Rubin says. Still, the bone loss doesn't stop.

Rubin thinks a healthy skeleton depends on the body's natural vibrations, in addition to the strain placed on bone by exercise. Even when sitting upright or standing still, your muscles are working to maintain your posture. The muscles vibrate at 10-50 hertz, and Rubin thinks these subtle vibrations stimulate bone growth. In space, a human body doesn't strain against gravity to hold its posture. The muscles are relaxed, and bone is not constantly subjected to muscular vibrations.

If Rubin is right, a vibrating platform could remove one more obstacle to sending astronauts on a mission to Mars. What's more, vibration might become a first-line treatment for osteoporosis, as well as a way to prevent it. Better treatments for osteoporosis are sorely needed. DiNubile says he worries about what will happen when today's young women go through "the change" some 40 years from now. "They're not even close on calcium intake," he says. What's more, teens tend be sedentary and guzzle massive quantities of soft drinks. All things considered, it looks like an epidemic of shattered hips may plague us mid-century.

A lot of hope was pinned on estrogen replacement therapy for postmenopausal women, but now doctors are finding out that it's unsafe. "They will not have that protector of bones," DiNubile says.

Rubin says he thinks vibration therapy would be the perfect answer -- no drugs, no side effects. "It basically relies on the normal physiology of the skeleton," he says. "What could be better?"

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