Osteoporosis Drugs May Weaken Bones

Bust made of bones

A report on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme today highlighted new research which suggests that drugs used to treat weak bones in elderly patients suffering from osteoporosis may actually make them weaker.  Below are key the key points from an accompanying article on the BBC website

Scientists at Imperial College London examined the bone structure of hip-fracture patients who had been treated with bisphosphonates.  They found evidence the drugs were linked to microscopic cracks, making bones more fragile and prone to break.

Osteoporosis affects three million people in the UK.  Losing bone is a normal part of the ageing process, but some people lose bone density much faster than normal. This can lead to osteoporosis and an increased risk of fractures.

Bisphosphonates – the main treatment for osteoporosis – are a commonly prescribed class of drugs that slow down the natural processes by which the body removes ageing or damaged bone.  But doctors have raised concerns about the number of fractures occurring among elderly patients who have been taking the drugs for a long time.

To find out why, the team led by Dr Richie Abel took samples of bone from 16 hip-fracture patients and studied them at the Diamond Light Source – the massive doughnut-shaped Syncatron or particle accelerator at the Harwell campus in south Oxfordshire.

“What we wanted to see was whether the bone from bisphosphonate patients was weaker or stronger than bone from untreated controls,” Dr Abel explained.

“Rather startlingly, we found the bone from the bisphosphonate patients was weaker. That’s a conundrum because the bone should be stronger.”

Animal bone sculptures by Hideki Tokushiga

By bombarding the samples with X-rays 10 billion times brighter than the Sun, the team were able to generate images of the internal structure of the bones in unprecedented detail.  These showed microscopic cracks building up in the bones of patients treated with bisphosphonates.

Dr Abel said: “The drug is clearly working, but it also leads to the build-up of micro-cracks in the bone and that could increase the likelihood of a fracture.”

It’s a surprising result, but the study was small and the work is at an early stage.  Even so, Professor Justin Cobb, a co-author on the paper, says the discovery raises important questions about how we prescribe bisphosphonates for long-term conditions such as osteoporosis.

“There’s no hurry, but we should think about how long people are taking them for, and how we might monitor the development of these micro-cracks,” he said.

In the meantime the researchers say people should continue to take medications prescribed by their doctor.

A good diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding smoking and alcohol, safe exposure to sunlight and regular exercise involving some weight bearing activity are also highly recommended for good bone health.

To close, here’s Shakey Graves (swoon!) with a cover of Rush’s Roll the Bones…see what I did there…

The Art of the Body II

Regular visitors to the website will know that EP HQ is very interested in how the human body influences art.  A trip last weekend to Tate Modern’s stunning new extension, the Switch House provided some great examples.  The Artist Rooms are currently devoted to the work of Louise Bourgeois, who explored the theme of the human body regularly in her art.

Here are a couple of her pieces hanging in one of the Artist Rooms…

Louise Bourgeois body parts Tate Modern Artists Rooms

Another of the galleries in The Switch House currently features a retrospective of Rebecca Horn’s work, an artist who often incorporates the human body in her sculptures…

Rebecca Horn Body Sculpture

This weekend I came across a dance piece, bODY rEMIX gOLDBERG vARIATIONS by the controversial Canadian choreographer, Marie Chouinard.  Included in the work are dancers using various devices normally associated with physical disability, e.g. crutches, prostheses, to extend their bodies and create unusual shapes and movements.  The result is surprisingly beautiful…

Body Remix by Marie Chouinard

Another recent mini adventure, this time to The Eden Project in late June to see P J Harvey, I came across this sign which, if I was wearing a bigger coat, I would have nicked so I could bring it back and hang it on the Pilates studio door…

Sign for The Core at the Eden Project

Finally, here’s Polly Jean herself performing in all her glory at this year’s Glastonbury, a couple of days before I saw her Eden Session gig.  Unlike Pilton, we had wall-to-wall sunshine…ha!  Take that, Glasto!

Note: I would KILL for PJ’s hat…assuming no birds were harmed in the making of it of course…