Aspirin, an anti-inflammatory, is already widely used in the treatment of chronic disease, in particular, heart disease. Now, new research in mice, published today in the journal PLoS One, suggests that aspirin may help combat yet another devastating disease: osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis, which means “porous bones,” is a disease in which bones become weak and brittle and therefore fracture easily. In fact, a recent Canadian study, reported in the Best Health blog, showed that 80 percent of fractures in women over the age of 50 are related to osteoporosis.
Bone is being constantly remodelled—meaning new bone is being created by cells called “osteoblasts” and old bone is being broken down by cells called “osteoclasts.” The net effect is the maintenance of strong, healthy bones. But when women hit menopause and estrogen levels drop, bone loss increases. In some women, this loss is dramatic and is one of the factors that can lead to osteoporosis.
Medical doctors and scientists have recognized for some time thataspirin has a positive effect on bone density, but they didn’tunderstand how.In this new study, researchers at the University of Southern California School of Dentistry in Los Angeles sought to figure this out. They induced an osteoporosis-like condition in female mice by removing their ovaries (in effect, mimicking post-menopause in women) and administered low doses of aspirin for a two-month period. They also looked at the effects of aspirin on cultured bone marrow stem cells from humans.
They discovered that aspirin both prevents the improper breakdown of bone by osteoclasts and the death of bone-forming stem cells. And, these actions are mediated by cells of the immune system called T lyphocytes. The overall result was an improvement in bone density in the laboratory mice treated with aspirin.
The researchers conclude that aspirin may offer a new approach for the treatment of osteoporosis, but the research is still far from conclusive. Much more work will need to be done before the drug’s potential benefits are realized in humans.
For more on osteoporosis, see:
Osteoporosis in our A-Z Health Index