Compound May Fight Osteoporosis

A compound that works like estrogen, but with none of the side effects, has been found to prevent brittle bone disease in mice. The discovery may offer an alternative for older women who stopped hormone replacement therapy because of the risks of cancer and heart disease.

In a study appearing today in the journal Science, researchers say experiments with the compound, called estren, increased bone density and strength in mice that had been surgically altered to mimic menopause. The scientists said they found none of the dangerous side effects linked to estrogen.

Experts on osteoporosis, the brittle bone disease, said if estren is found to work as well in humans, it could substitute for the hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, that has been used to maintain bone health in women after menopause.

An estimated 20 million American women were regularly taking hormone supplements to treat post-menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and the weakening of bones. But in July, federal scientists abruptly ended a study of the combination of estrogen and progestin after finding evidence that long-term use increased the risk of breast cancer, strokes and heart attacks. Sales of various formulations of HRT have dropped 15 to 40 percent.

Jill L. Carrington of the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, said the research is important because it demonstrated there are compounds that could replace estrogen hormone therapy for treating the loss of bone density.

In the new study, a number of compounds were screened to find one, estren, that activated the bone-building action of estrogen without affecting cells in the sex organs or breasts. The compound was used in an experiment on mice whose ovaries and testicles had been removed. This surgery mimics menopause in the females and prevents the male animals from making sex hormones that maintain bone density.

The researchers now plan to expand the experiments to rats and to additional mice to search more closely for side effects. It will take two to three years of additional work before the compound would be ready for human testing, researchers said.

Arthritis Hits a Third of U.S. Adults

One-third of all American adults suffer from arthritis or chronic joint problems, federal health officials reported.

The survey, the first to measure arthritis prevalence directly on a state-by-state basis, revealed that an estimated 70 million people in 2001 suffered from the disease or other types of chronic joint pain, stiffness or swelling.

Arthritis causes painful inflammation in the joints. It is the leading cause of disability in the United States as well as a major financial drain on the U.S. health care system.

Although considerably higher than previous estimates, the Atlanta-based federal agency said the study's figures did not reflect a substantial increase in arthritis or chronic joint pain prevalence. One study in 1997 estimated that 43 million adults and children suffered from arthritis.

The CDC study found that arthritis and chronic joint problems were more common in the central and northwestern parts of the nation. West Virginia had the highest rate at 42.6 percent, while Hawaii claimed the lowest at 17.8 percent.

-- Compiled from reports by the Associated Press and Reuters