News December 2005 Issue

In the News: 12/05

Statin Use Reduces Fracture Risk

Cholesterol-lowering statins, in addition to their lipid-controlling benefit, have now been shown to reduce the incidence of fractures in older men.

In a large study of elderly, predominantly male veterans, statins were found to be associated with a 36 percent reduction in fracture risk. As reported in a recent issue of  the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers analyzed data from 91,052 patients who received care through the Veterans Administration between Jan. 1, 1998 and June 30, 2001. Of these patients, 28,063 were prescribed statins, 2,195 were given nonstatin lipid-lowering medications, and the remaining 60,794 were given no lipid-lowering drugs. In addition to the 36 percent reduction in fracture risk experienced by statin users, a 32 percent reduction in risk was also observed when compared with those who used only nonstatin lipid-lowering therapy.

Although the nature of how statins protect against fractures is unknown, several reasons have been put forth to explain the association, including statins’ influence on the reduction of inflammation and promotion of new bone growth.

Previous studies showing an association between statin use and fracture reduction have focused primarily on women, who are more likely than men to develop brittle bones. Although some of these studies have supported a positive association between statins and bone health, others have failed to do so.

Says AA Editor-in-Chief Brian Donley, M.D., “This latest study provides some interesting preliminary data, but further studies need to be undertaken to confirm these findings.”

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Stem-Cell Breakthrough For Spinal Injuries

Despite the controversy surrounding fetal stem-cell research, a new study has produced strong evidence that therapeutic use of stem cells can help restore motor skills lost from spinal cord damage.

Researchers found that, when injected into paralyzed mice, embryonic stem cells led to a recovery of motor skills. Researchers used a technique that caused the stem cells to differentiate into early-stage oligodendrocyte cells. Oligodendrocytes are the building blocks of the myelin sheath, a layer of insulative cells that nerve fibers need to communicate with the brain. The treatment, reported in the Journal of Neuroscience, was successful in restoring the tissue in mice treated seven days after initial injury; within two months, the mice showed significant improvement in walking ability. The same treatment, however, did not work on mice that had been injured for 10 months, pointing to the advantage of using stem-cell therapy in humans suffering spinal cord damage during the early stages of injury.

Researchers are now seeking Food and Drug Administration approval to test the technique on humans.

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Baby Boomer Obesity Sparks Increase In Arthritis

Here’s something to pass along to the baby boomers in your crowd: The increase in obesity among people born during the period 1946-1965 is projected to lead to a dramatic increase in arthritis. According to a study published in a recent issue of the American Journal of Public Health, obesity rates have not only increased substantially for the baby-boomer generation, but the risk of arthritis attributed to obesity soared from 3 percent to 18 percent between the years 1971 and 2002.

Based on data collected from the U.S. Bureau of the Census and the National Center for Health Statistics, researchers foresee the increase in arthritis-related disability as an “epidemic” in the coming decades and suggest that public-health strategies to address obesity and arthritis could have a major impact on the lives of baby boomers in the years to come.

The study was supported by grants from the Arthritis Foundation, the National Bureau of Economics Research, and the National Institute on Aging.