Osteoporosis Research at the Framinhgam Heart Study
Continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health since 1987, The Framingham Osteoporosis Study has performed close to 10,000 bone density tests for participants in the Original and Offspring Cohorts. The dedication of each participant has made this very important research possible and made an important contribution to improving our understanding of bone health.
Osteoporosis, which means "porous bone," is a disease characterized by weak bones and increased risk of fractures. Researchers for The Framingham Osteoporosis Study have been studying bone loss and fractures under the direction of Dr. Douglas Kiel, a physician specializing in geriatric medicine (the treatment and care of older people) and Director Medical Research of the Institute for Aging Research at Hebrew SeniorLife.
Interestingly, Dr. Kiel and colleagues have found an important connection between bone and heart health. Using data collected since enrollment of the original cohort in 1949, the researchers discovered that women who experienced the greatest bone loss were those at greatest risk of developing plaques in the heart, which can cause heart disease and strokes. Conversely, the osteoporosis researchers found the women with the strongest bones were also less likely to develop heart disease than the women with weaker bones. High levels of homocysteine, a building block of protein (amino acid) measured in your blood, has been linked to both increased risk of heart disease as well as increased incidence of hip fracture in the Framingham Study.
Researchers at The Osteoporosis Study have identified that adequate amounts of dietary protein may be necessary to prevent osteoporosis, a highly important finding, since previously it was widely thought that consuming too much protein in your diet was bad for bone health in older adults.
While it has long been established that levels of the hormone estrogen play a major role in the bone health of women, the impact of estrogen on the male skeleton was not known until Framingham Osteoporosis Study researchers investigated this highly important issue to men's health. The results showed that men with low estrogen levels were at increased risk of having low bone density as well as increased risk of hip fracture.
The Osteoporosis Study also found that hip fracture rates have been increasing for successive birth cohorts. For example, rates were highest in participants born 1911-1921, intermediate in those born 1901-1910, and lowest in those born 1887-1900. Recently, investigators reported that among original cohort members who had a first hip fracture, incidence of second hip fracture was 15%. Moreover, this study found that most these second hip fractures occurred 3 or more years after the first hip fracture, suggesting an important "window of opportunity" for potential treatment and prevention efforts.
These studies are just a small sample of the more than 100 articles published in top medical journals by investigators at The Osteoporosis Study. The Osteoporosis Study is also part of the new genetics initiative, The SHARe Project, to discover genes that might explain why bone fragility and fractures tend to occur in families.
Thanks to the participation of all Framingham participants and to the collaboration of the Framingham Heart Study and Osteoporosis research teams, important progress will continue to be made in improving our understanding of the causes and ways to prevent osteoporosis and fracture.