New UCLA study suggests that avoiding high-fat foods may help protect bones from osteoporosis

December 21, 2000

Everyone knows that eating fatty foods may cause high cholesterol and heart disease, but UCLA researchers have now learned that unhealthy eating and high cholesterol may also contribute to osteoporosis.

UCLA researchers found that a high-fat diet dramatically reduced bone density and bone mineral in an animal model. The new study points to the possibility that high cholesterol may play a role in the development of osteoporosis.

The study, published in the current issue of the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, could lead to new treatment options for osteoporosis, a disease that annually causes more than one million fractures, affecting both men and women.

"Until very recently, cholesterol was not considered important in bone health," said Farhad Parhami, principal investigator and assistant professor, UCLA Division of Cardiology. "We hope this study will begin to break new ground in better understanding the relationship between high cholesterol and osteoporosis."

During the study, UCLA researchers fed one group of mice a high-fat diet, which elevates cholesterol levels, while a second group of mice received a normal diet.

After seven months, researchers found a 43 percent decrease in mineral content and 15 percent decrease in bone density in the femoral bones of mice placed on the high-fat diet compared with the group on a normal diet.

Researchers also found a 35 percent decrease in mineral content in the vertebrae of mice fed the high-fat diet compared to mice receiving a normal diet.

A previously reported study by these UCLA researchers also found that the number of bone-forming cells in the mice fed a fatty diet was significantly lower than in mice fed a normal diet.

"High cholesterol may decrease overall bone production," Parhami said. "We may find that new more effective treatments for osteoporosis may involve a two-pronged approach, targeting both bone building cells as well as the cells that disintegrate bone," Parhami said.

According to Dr. Linda Demer, senior study author and chief, UCLA Division of Cardiology, the next research step will focus on learning more about the connection between cholesterol and osteoporosis.

"This may open up an entirely new area in looking at how improving diet, taking lipid-lowering drugs such as statins, and possibly antioxidants may help prevent not only heart disease but osteoporosis as well," Demer said.

According to Demer, this study becomes part of a growing body of research linking similarities between heart disease and osteoporosis. And the common link so far seems to be high cholesterol.

"The structures of bone and artery are very similar. Osteoporosis and heart disease may both be caused by an inflammatory response in the body, triggered by high cholesterol," Demer said. "While high cholesterol triggers clogging of the arteries, it may also cause bone to disintegrate. These opposite effects could be due to how high cholesterol is interacting with the soft tissue found in the arteries compared with hard tissue found in bone."

Demer notes that much more research into these areas needs to be completed to help better understand how the body works and how these diseases develop.
The research was funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

University of California - Los Angeles

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