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Researchers Find Possible Key to Osteoporosis Treatment

Osteoporosis affects around 10 million Americans, while another 44 million suffer from low bone density, placing them at an increased risk of developing the condition. Doctors often try to combat the problem by prescribing oral bisphosphonate osteoporosis drugs, which have been linked to atrial fibrillation, liver damage, esophageal cancer and more. In a recent study published in the journal Cellular and Molecular Gastroenterology and Hepatology, researchers discovered new information regarding calcium absorption that they believe may lead to a new treatment for seniors suffering from the condition.


While studying breastfed infant mice, researchers identified calcium-absorbing channels located in the lower two-thirds of the small intestines. Previous research has shown that most calcium absorption occurs in the upper areas of the small intestines, in adult mammals. This study is the first to reveal the mechanism in which infants absorb calcium. Infants need large amounts of calcium, especially in their first year of life, to help build healthy bones. Calcium deposition continues through the years, but at a lower rate, until about age 25.

Study leader Megan Beggs, a pediatric dietitian, explained, “We build our bone mineral density until we're early adults and then stop, so we think of osteoporosis as a disease of the elderly. Really, it's a pediatric disease with consequences in old age, so understanding what's happening at these younger ages, when bones are being built, is critical.”

Senior author of the study, Todd Alexander, explained, “You can imagine that if you have someone who has poor bone health, such as an elderly person or a sick child in neonatal intensive care who has not been able to breastfeed, it would be very useful therapeutically to turn this pathway on for them.”

Researchers plan to test their hypothesis that a hormone in breast milk is responsible for regulating the channels. "Understanding that would allow us to either take the active ingredient out of breast milk or synthesize it as an additive so we could give it to people as a tablet or an injection," Alexander said.

Osteoporosis is a major health risk of millions of Americans, in large part because many are clueless about how to prevent it. To learn more about prevention, click here.

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