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More Evidence Cholesterol Drugs Reduce Fracture Risk

WebMD Health News

June 27, 2000 -- Cecilia, Angela, and Mary are three sisters who once shared the same room, the same wardrobe, and the same enthusiasm for jacks and porcelain-faced dolls. In July of 1999 they shared something else: All three women, now in their 70s, had fractured bones of the spinal column. These three diminutive sisters are among the 10 million Americans with the bone-wasting disease osteoporosis.

Cecilia says she won't ever take estrogen, even though it may protect her bones; Angela says Fosamax, a drug approved for treatment of osteoporosis, upsets her stomach; and Mary is using Evista, one of the new, so-called designer estrogens that doesn?t promote breast cancer and does reduce fracture risk.

But all three of these women may someday treat their osteoporosis with a drug that is now used to lower cholesterol, and if they do, they may also be protecting their hearts and reducing the chance that they will have a stroke.

In less than a week, two respected medical journals -- The Lancet and The Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) -- each published studies suggesting that the class of cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins may also cut the risk of fractures by half.

A total of four human studies and one animal study have all reached that same conclusion, a conclusion that has osteoporosis experts asking for confirmation. Because the human studies were based on conclusions reached by analyzing medical records, no one is willing to suggest just yet that the statins should be used to treat osteoporosis.

But if the findings are confirmed by further research, that is just what could happen, says Felicia Cosman, MD, clinical director of the National Osteoporosis Foundation. She says that older women are at risk for both heart disease and osteoporosis, so a single pill that could treat both conditions would be a major breakthrough.

Future studies will compare how a specific statin works when compared to an accepted treatment for osteoporosis, says Cosman. These studies are needed because sometimes the conclusions of studies based on medical records are disproved when tested further. Estrogen met this fate when many medical record studies suggested that estrogen protected women from heart attacks, but recently more research has found that when women already had heart disease, estrogen didn't keep their disease from progressing.

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