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Research Shows Cholesterol Drugs May Also Fight Osteoporosis

Several promising studies show that drugs used to lower cholesterol may also benefit patients with osteoporosis, a degenerative bone disease. The drugs, called statins, were shown to significantly decrease the incidence of hip fractures among patients over 50 years of age. Hip fractures are a common problem among women and men with osteoporosis. Although researchers say that statins need to be tested in larger clinical trials before they can be considered for osteoporosis patients, taking one pill to reduce both heart disease and osteoporosis would be a major medical breakthrough.

In one study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, lead researcher Christoph Meier, PhD found that men and women between the ages of 50 and 89 who were currently on statins were less likely to experience hip fractures. Another study of 6110 individuals aged 65 and older, (also published in the Journal of the American Medical Association) found that the use of statins was associated with a 43% to 50% reduction in hip fracture risk compared to patients who never took statins.

It is estimated that 8 million Americans currently use statins to help lower their cholesterol. Statins are marketed in the United States as Mevacor, Lipitor, Zocor, Lescol, and Pravachol. Most patients tolerate statins well; however, liver complications or muscle inflammation are two possible side effects of the drugs. Statins work by blocking the production of cholesterol, which can build-up in arteries and lead to heart disease. Statins have also been found to reduce the risk of stroke and prolong the life of heart attack patients.

Researchers believe that statins may help patients with osteoporosis by actually increasing bone mineral density. Drugs currently used to treat osteoporosis slow bone erosion rather than increasing bone density.

Although recent studies show promising effects of statins on osteoporosis, researchers are quick to point out that further research is still needed. Because the studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association involved analyzing medical records, some researchers say that the findings may not be the same when statins are tested in randomized clinical trials.

According to Steven Cummings, MD and Douglas Bauer, MD, who wrote an accompanying editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association, "recommendations about prescription of statins to prevent fractures must await the results of rigorous randomized trials that are large enough to determine whether currently approved or new statins improve bone mass and reduce the risk of fractures. In the meantime, patients with osteoporosis should be treated with agents that have been proven to reduce the risk of fractures."

Current treatments for osteoporosis include hormone replacement therapy and other drug therapies such as raloxifene (brand name, Evista), alendronate (brand name, Fosamax), calcitonin (brand name, Miacalcin), and risedronate sodium (brand name, Actonel).

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