Diabetes and Bone LossDiabetes and Bone Loss

Scripps Research Institute scientists are working on a potential new type of drug that may treat both diabetes and osteoporosis. That’s big news because there aren’t many treatments to reverse bone loss, because diabetes can contribute to osteoporosis, and because some current diabetes medicines also make bone loss worse. Diabetes affects about a quarter of all adults age 65 and older, about ten percent of US seniors have osteoporosis, and many people have both conditions.

Here’s a look at how osteoporosis and diabetes interact, what researchers are working on, and what doctors recommend right now.

The connection between diabetes and bone loss

Scientists don’t fully understand all the links between diabetes and osteoporosis, but there are several connections. People with Type 1 diabetes are at increased risk for weak bones, possibly because high blood glucose levels impair bone formation. Type 2 diabetes patients also have a higher risk of bone fractures, and researchers aren’t sure why—factors like inactivity, advancing age, and vision problems can contribute to diabetes and osteoporosis, so the cause and effect are unclear.

Further complicating matters, some diabetes medications have side effects that can cause bone loss. For patients with both diabetes and osteoporosis, and for their doctors, finding treatments that work can be frustrating. Scripps researchers have found that a potential drug they’re developing — SR10171 – can help normalize insulin and blood glucose levels while increasing new bone creation and bone-cell turnover. It’s possible, researchers say, that SR10171 could also improve bone density in people with osteoporosis even if they don’t also have diabetes.

There’s no word yet on plans for clinical trials based on SR10171, but the research so far offers some long-range hope for patients who have to balance the risk of fractures from osteoporosis against the risk of blood-sugar problems caused by inactivity. A drug that can treat both conditions could create a positive cycle by making it safer for patients to do weight-bearing exercise that slows bone loss and controls blood sugar, without putting themselves at greater risk for fractures during their workouts.

Preventing and coping with osteoporosis

In the meantime, people with both diabetes and osteoporosis should follow their doctor’s recommendations carefully, especially when it comes to diet and physical activity. To prevent or slow bone-density loss, the National Institutes of Health recommends the same steps for everyone, whether or not you are diabetic. They include:

  • Exercising regularly, because weight-bearing workouts like walking and dancing can help maintain bone density and healthy blood-sugar levels.
  • Avoiding smoking and heavy drinking, because both put you at increased risk for bone thinning and complications of diabetes.
  • Eating dark green leafy vegetables and low-fat dairy foods that are high in calcium and vitamin D, both of which contribute to healthy bones.

Older adults, especially those with diabetes, may benefit from a bone density test to look for weaknesses in the hipbones and spine, so treatment can begin before there’s a fracture. Ask your doctor whether this is a test you need. Learn more about preventing osteoporosis and the signs of diabetes on the SeniorAdvisor.com blog.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.

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