Early Detection and Diet May Help Prevent Osteoporosis

By Pat Anson, Editor

The key to good bone health – and preventing fractures later in life – may lie in anti-inflammatory diets and earlier detection of bone loss, according to two new studies.

Researchers at the University of Michigan are studying new ways to identify women at risk of osteoporosis, a loss in bone density that raises the risk of fractures and disability. Breaking a bone in your spine or hip doubles your chances of developing chronic widespread body pain, especially if you are older.

"It's been considered a silent disease," says Karl Jepsen, PhD, associate chair of research and professor of orthopaedic surgery at Michigan Medicine. "One of the biggest challenges when you're looking at age-related bone fragility is to identify people who will fracture."

Jepsen is the lead author of a study published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, which followed nearly 200 women for 14 years as they transitioned through menopause.

"Current identification for bone fragility takes place when the patient is around 65 years of age," Jepsen explains.

"We were hopeful that this study would give us an opportunity to identify those patients as early as 30 years before they fracture based on their bone traits. That means we would have an opportunity to intervene before the fracture happens, instead of after the fact."

Jepsen and his colleagues started following the women in 1996. Participants who enrolled had to be between 42 and 52 years of age and had at least one menstrual period in the previous three months. The women had bone density scans and other tests annually to measure changes in their bone mineral density.

Researchers found that the women experienced a wide variation in bone mineral content and bone area within the hip as they went through menopause, a finding that was unexpected.

"Our results were opposite to all expectations of how we assumed this would work," Jepsen says. "We found some women appeared to have hip bones that were increasing in strength during the menopausal transition while others seemed to be losing strength."

Jepsen said his study demonstrates that bone changes can be tracked individually in women during menopause, when treatment can begin earlier to prevent bone loss. Hormones and bisphosphonate drugs are currently used to help strengthen bones.

“Our goal is to use simple bone traits to identify those women that may benefit from early intervention when it comes to bone fragility, instead of the current strategy, which treats individuals after they have lost appreciable bone mass and strength," he said.

Anti-Inflammatory Diet Improves Bone Health

Anti-inflammatory diets -- which tend to be high in vegetables, fruits, fish and whole grains -- could boost bone health and prevent fractures, according to a study at The Ohio State University.

Researchers analyzed dietary data from over 160,000 women enrolled in the landmark Women's Health Initiative by assigning inflammation scores based on 32 foods that the women reported consuming. Researchers also looked at bone-mineral-density data from over 10,000 women and collected fracture data for the entire study group.

They found a correlation between high-inflammatory diets and fractures in post-menopausal younger than 63. Women with the least-inflammatory diets also lost less bone mineral density.

"This suggests that as women age, healthy diets are impacting their bones," said Tonya Orchard, an assistant professor of human nutrition at Ohio State's Food Innovation Center. "These women with healthier diets didn't lose bone as quickly as those with high-inflammation diets, and this is important because after menopause women see a drastic loss in bone density that contributes to fractures,"

The study, which appears in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, was observational -- meaning it does not definitively link diet to bone health. But it adds to a growing body of evidence that inflammation can increase osteoporosis risk.

"By looking at the full diet rather than individual nutrients, these data provide a foundation for studying how components of the diet might interact to provide benefit and better inform women's health and lifestyle choices," said Rebecca Jackson, the study's senior author and director of Ohio State's Center for Clinical and Translational Science.

Previous studies have connected high levels of inflammatory markers in the blood to bone loss and fractures in older women and men. The new findings suggest that women's bone health could benefit when they choose a diet higher in beneficial fats, plants and whole grains.