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Hormone Restores Bone Strength in Men With Osteoporosis


WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

Oct. 15, 2001 -- Osteoporosis is thought to be only a woman's disease. But this is not the case, and researchers are looking for treatments that can help build bone in men as well.

People with osteoporosis have thin and weak bones and stand a good chance of fractures, which can be a very serious -- even deadly -- problem, especially as we age.

And with the aging baby boomers, more men and women will suffer from this brittle-bone disease.

Yes, osteoporosis does affect more women, especially after menopause, but men account for one in five cases of the disease. In fact, after age 50, one in eight men will suffer a fracture in the spine, hip, or wrist due to osteoporosis.

But all is not lost. There are several drugs available to prevent and even treat osteoporosis, such as Evista and Fosamax. However, most of the testing has been done in women, so researchers aren't quite sure how these drugs work in men.

But now, researchers are testing a state-of-the art treatment for osteoporosis -- and they're doing it in men.

A hormone called "parathyroid hormone," which occurs naturally in the body and helps to preserve bone, was tested in men, and findings of two studies were presented at a bone research meeting this week in Phoenix. Known also as Forteo, this drug has already been shown to build bone in women with osteoporosis.

In the first study, researcher Eric Orwoll, MD, and colleagues gave either injections of Forteo or placebo once a day to 437 men with thinning bones. They also gave the men vitamin D and calcium, both of which help build stronger bones.

Bone density, a measure of bone strength, increased significantly in more than 90% of the men that received Forteo.

In the second study, also from Orwoll and fellow researchers, 355 men with osteoporosis were also given Forteo or placebo. The men taking Forteo were more than 80% less likely to fracture their spine, a common place to have problems with osteoporosis. Spine fractures lead to the typical stooped-over posture seen in some elderly people, especially women.

People who are thin and don't have much muscle are most likely to develop osteoporosis. In addition, white and Asian women are more likely to have problems with thinning bones than African-Americans.

But 30% to 60% of men may have some other underlying cause of osteoporosis that may also require some other treatment, such as:

  • Low levels of the sex hormone testosterone cause thinning bones.
  • Anti-inflammatory steroids, used to treat medical problems such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis, can cause bone loss and fractures.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption also leads to fragile bones.

If any of these apply to you, see your doctor for a bone-density test, which gives your doctor an idea of how strong your bones are.

At this point, Forteo has not been approved by the FDA, so is not yet available for prescription. But there are other treatments that can help build stronger bones in the meantime.

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