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Parathyroid Hormone Helps Reverse Osteoporosis

Parathyroid hormone was three times more effective than available drugs at reversing the bone loss associated with osteoporosis, report US researchers.

In a study, about two thirds of postmenopausal women on estrogen therapy who were also treated with parathyroid hormone increased bone mass in their vertebrae or backbones by 30%, according to a study presented this week at the Endocrine Society meeting here.

The researchers found that in 64% of the women taking parathyroid hormone, bone mass was restored to pre-osteoporosis levels.

“This is an enormous increase,” said senior investigator Dr. Chris Arnaud of the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF), in an interview with Reuters Health. “These results compare very favorably with estrogen and alendronate and other therapies that act primarily to suppress bone resorption,” or the loss of bone density.

“This, in a sense, is an approach to a cure for osteoporosis, quite different from what we’ve been doing, just controlling the disease,” Arnaud told Reuters Health.

“The annual cost of the disease now is about $14 billion,” he added. “It’s likely to be something like $240 billion by the year 2040, which is essentially what we spend on (the nation’s) defense today. So if we don’t cure it, we’re going to be saddled with a huge cost.”

Drugs currently used to treat or prevent osteoporosis, such as estrogen and raloxifene, act by suppressing loss of bone density. In contrast, parathyroid hormone acts by stimulating bone formation.

However, a statement issued by UCSF notes that a recent study in rats linked high doses of parathyroid hormone to a risk for a malignant bone tumor called osteogenic sarcoma.

The team notes that this type of tumor is rare in humans, and usually occurs in those under age 25, not the older population most often affected by osteoporosis. No bone tumors were found in the women participating in the study.

The next goal in the research, he added, is to determine that the large increase in bone mass caused by parathyroid hormone therapy leads to reduced fracture risk.

The National Institute on Aging funded the study.

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