Cholesterol Drug Helps Restore Bone

Anti-cholesterol drugs taken by millions of Americans to prevent heart attack may have the added benefit of restoring bone ravaged by osteoporosis, the brittle-bone disease.

A new study in laboratory rats shows that the statin drugs, which patients take to lower cholesterol levels, prompt growth cells to build new bone, replacing bone that has been leached away by osteoporosis.

Although the bone-building use of statins has not been tested in humans, a retrospective study of osteoporosis patients who also took the drugs shows evidence that their bones became more dense than did bones of osteoporosis patients who did not take the drug.

A team led by Greg Mundy, an endocrinologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, found the potential new use for the statin drugs after screening more than 30,000 compounds for possible bone-strengthening effects. The statin drugs used in the rat experiments were lovastatin, marketed under the brand name Mevacor, and simvastatin, sold under the brand name Zocor.

Mundy, whose findings are reported in today's issue of the journal Science, said the drugs work by encouraging production of BMP2, an enzyme that prompts bones to grow new cells. There also is some evidence that the drugs reduce the number of osteoclasts, the cells that reduce bone density.

When tested on laboratory rats, the statin drugs doubled the density of bones in the leg and spine.

Mundy said the drugs also were tested on rats that had been surgically altered to develop bone loss in the same way that elderly women do. After treatment with the statin drugs, the bones strengthened, increasing in volume by up to 96 percent compared with altered rats not taking the drug, he said.

More than 10 million Americans have osteoporosis. The disorder most commonly strikes women after menopause and causes bones to lose density. Fractures are common, crippling and painful for osteoporosis sufferers.

Midwives Vs. Modern Birth Methods

Babies are more likely to arrive with help from midwives these days, but induced labor, ultrasounds and other modern procedures also are on the rise for mothers-to-be, according to a new government report.

The report, which charts birth trends through most of the 1990s, found that the vast majority of babies are born in the hospital, with a doctor handling the delivery.

But there has been a steady rise in the number of midwives delivering babies, from 3.7 percent of all births in 1989 to 7 percent in 1997.

Midwifery is much less medically invasive, focusing on the woman as a future mother, not just as a patient, said Judith Rooks, who published a book on midwifery in 1997.

While more women are looking to midwives, more also are opting for fetal monitoring, ultrasounds and induced labor.

"It is ironic and it's not completely understood," said author Sally C. Curtin of the National Center for Health Statistics, which released the report yesterday.

Induced births doubled from 9 percent in 1989 to 18 percent in 1997. Some are medically necessary, but many are for the convenience of the patient or doctor, said Fredric Frigoletto, chief of obstetrics at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.