A natural probiotic supplement has been found to build healthy bones in laboratory studies that could pave the way for new natural treatments for people with osteoporosis.
The findings, by scientists at Michigan State University, indicate mice fed a supplement containing the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri, known to reduce inflammation, helped male laboratory mice produce healthier bones. Surprisingly, the probiotic didn’t have the same effect on female mice, the researchers reported in the Journal of Cellular Physiology.
But the researchers said additional studies could explain the gender disparity and refine scientists’ understanding of how to use probiotics to treat or even prevent osteoporosis.
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"We know that inflammation in the gut can cause bone loss, though it's unclear exactly why," said lead researcher Laura McCabe, a professor in MSU's Departments of Physiology and Radiology. "The neat thing we found is that a probiotic can enhance bone density."
Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms that help balance the immune system. Recent studies have tied them to a range of health benefits.
"Through food fermentation, we've been eating bacteria that we classify as probiotics for thousands of years," said co-researcher Robert Britton, associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics. "There's evidence that this bacterium as a species has co-evolved with humans. It's indigenous to our intestinal tracts and is something that, if missing, might cause problems."
By 2020, half of all Americans over 50 are forecast to have low bone density or osteoporosis, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. About one in two women and one in four men will break a bone due to osteoporosis.
Drugs now prescribed to prevent bone loss in osteoporosis patients have potential side effects and can disrupt the natural growth of bone tissue over time.
McCabe and Britton said they're hopeful their research could point the way toward osteoporosis treatments that don’t carry side effects.
"People tend to think of osteoporosis as just affecting postmenopausal women, but what they don't realize is that it can occur with other conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease and type 1 diabetes," said McCabe. "You don't want to put your child on medications that reduce bone remodeling for the rest of their life, so something natural could be useful for long-term treatment of bone loss that begins at childhood."
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