Osteoporosis has often been referred to as otherwise known as “the silent disease” as we tend not to notice our bones slowly getting weaker, which happens gradually over time and often without noticeable symptoms.
Consequently, if we don’t know that the disease is progressing, it’s difficult to know when to seek treatment. Luckily, a recent study that researchers published in Scientific Reports suggests that a new stem cell therapy may help treat osteoporosis and restore bones, which current mainstream treatments aren’t yet able to do.
What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a common medical condition where the bones become brittle and fragile from loss of tissue, typically as a result of hormonal changes, or deficiency of calcium or vitamin D. It directly affects about ten million Americans while forty-four million are considered high-risk due to their low bone density. The numbers are rising, too, which means that bone health should be of great concern.
A Deeper Look: What is Bone?
Our bodies have four basic types of tissue. They are epithelial tissue (e.g., skin), muscular tissue, nervous tissue, and connective tissue.
Bone is a connective tissue made up of collagen and calcium that is constantly growing. Of all of them, connective tissues are the most abundant and widely distributed in the body and provide such things as strength and support. These proteins and minerals work in tandem to increase our bones’ strength and flexibility. From when we are born to the time we die, our bodies naturally replace old skeletal bones with new ones — also known as resorption and formation.
New bone formation happens much quicker than bone resorption when we are younger up until peak bone mass (i.e., when we around thirty years old). At that time, a reversal begins to occur wherein bone loss surpasses new bone growth. So it’s a good idea to pay attention to your collagen and calcium levels to promote healthy bone development.
The Severity of Osteoporosis
These facts from the National Osteoporosis Foundation help put the “silent disease” into perspective:
- Adults fifty years-old and up should be particularly concerned because half of them are at risk of breaking a bone
- The risk of bone fractures in women is equal to that of breast, uterine, and ovarian cancer combined
- Men will more likely break a bone because of osteoporosis than getting prostate cancer
- It’s also extremely costly, costing patients, families, and the healthcare system $19 billion dollars a year
Who is Most at Risk
The most common signs people experience when they find out that they have osteoporosis are a fractured hip or vertebra (i.e., in the spine). You have an increased likelihood of osteoporosis if you are:[12,13]
- Over the age of sixty-five
- A woman (i.e., women tend to lose bone more rapidly due to menopause)
- Part of a family with a history of this bone disease
- Caucasian or Asian
- A small-boned woman who weighs under 127 pounds
Mainstream Osteoporosis Treatments
When it comes to treating osteoporosis, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. However, some medications have improved the quality of life for some sufferers. And while drugs aren’t an ideal thing to put in our bodies, these modern treatments can be beneficial.
To start, you can make an appointment with your doctor to measure your height to see if you’ve gotten shorter. Doctors may also be able to run a DEXA scan testwhich is a tool that they use to measure bone density and check for bone loss (hopefully at an early stage). Certain blood or urine tests may help to determine if you have a heart disease that is resulting in bone loss.
Common Osteoporosis Medications
Because we cannot yet reverse the effects of osteoporosis, current drugs mainly aim to keep bones as strong as possible. In almost every case they slow bone loss, but there is one drug* that has potential to rebuild bone.
In the industry, medical professionals know these medicines as bisphosphonates, a class of drugs that prevent the loss of bone mass. They include:
- Alendronate (Fosamax)
- Risedronate (Actonel)
- Ibandronate (Boniva)
- Zoledronic acid (Reclast)
- *Teriparatide (Forteo)
These bisphosphonates have some side effects, but they don’t seem too bad mentioning only an upset stomach and heartburn. However, there have been cases of a rare problem wherein the upper thighbone cracks (and sometimes breaks) as a result of patients using these medicines long-term.
New Stem Cell Research
Towards the end of 2016, Scientific Reports released a study which discovered that stems cells acquired from human amniotic fluid could potentially help strengthen brittle bones. This is especially significant when you consider that 54 million Americans are at risk of breaking their bones.
The preliminary study examined mice with Brittle Bone disease over the course of eight weeks. Out of 324 mice, researchers treated 168 of them with stem cells while the other 156 served as the control group.
After the eight-week period, researchers evaluated each mouse for fractures. In all 156 of the control mice, fractures were present. In comparison, the stem cell-treated mice showed a sixty-nine and eighty-nine percent decrease in fractures.
While these results are positive, they revealed no sign of promoting bone growth. They did, however, help in fortifying bone tissue that already existed.
According to Pascale Guillot, the study leader, “The stem cells we’ve used are excellent at protecting bones. The bones become much stronger and the way the bone is organized internally is of much higher quality.”
Previous studies explored the use of umbilical cord stem cells and found that they also reduced fractures. But the significant difference in amniotic stem cells is that they increased bone strength and structure in addition to plasticity.
Although this research is still young and not yet tested on humans, researchers are awaiting an FDA approval. If they do get the go-ahead, there is great hope and potential for a country in dire need of better bone health treatments (and maybe even cures).
What You Can Do to Prevent Osteoporosis
The reversal of bone loss is unlikely at the point, so the most important approach is prevention and maintenance of bone density. To avoid taking powerful synthetic medications, there are natural ways to prevent or help treat the “silent disease.” We’ve listed three tangible areas below:
To reap the most bone benefits, you’ll need to do two types of exercises:
- Weight-bearing (e.g., running, walking, racket sports, stair-climbing, and aerobics)
- Muscle-strengthening (e.g., lifting weights)
Health professionals suggest that working out at least three times a week for anywhere between thirty and forty-five minutes. Ultimately, you want to emphasize the weight-bearing aspects of your workout. Engaging and exercising help maintain bone density.
As we mentioned earlier, attention to healthy collagen and calcium intakes will promote healthy bone growth. Foods you can incorporate into your diet are:
- Calcium-rich foods (e.g., non-fat or fat-free milk and yogurt, broccoli, cauliflower, salmon, tofu, and leafy greens)
- Soups (adding a bit of vinegar to your stock will help increase the calcium that comes out of the bones and into your broth)
- Vitamin D and Magnesium (research suggests that low levels of this vitamin and mineral increase your likelihood of losing bone at a quicker rate)
- Keep a healthy body weight (being underweight ups your chances of bone loss and fractures, but excess weight also poses risks to your wrists and arms)
- Protein (this macronutrient is necessary to bone formation)
Lifestyle and home remedies
These lifestyle suggestions from the Mayo Clinic may help reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis or experiencing broken bones:
- Stop smoking. Smoking increases rates of bone loss and the chance of experiencing a fracture.
- Limit alcohol consumption. Consuming more than two alcoholic drinks a day may decrease bone formation. Being under the influence of alcohol also can increase your risk of falling.
- Be safe and prevent falls. Wear low-heeled shoes with nonslip soles and check your house for electrical cords, area rugs and slippery surfaces that might cause you to trip or fall. Keep rooms brightly lit, install grab bars just inside and outside your shower door, and make sure you can get into and out of your bed easily.
An important thing to keep in mind is that these alternatives likely won’t work independently. Diet and exercise will work best together with consistency, and we encourage you to start caring more for your bones before it’s too late.