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Study: Depressed women may face higher risk of osteoporosis


October 16, 1996
Web posted at: 2:45 a.m. EDT

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Women who are depressed are more likely to develop brittle bones late in life, a new study says.

The National Institutes of Health has found a link between depression and osteoporosis, a bone-thinning condition caused by a lack of calcium.


"If they continue to have depressions and continue to lose bone mineral density, then they will enter menopause already at a significant risk for fracture," Dr. Philip Gold of the National Institute of Mental Health.

NIH scientists believe depression unleashes hormones that can weaken bones over a period of years.

"We predicted that there would be some loss in bone mineral density on the basis of the high cortisol levels, but we were actually quite surprised to see the magnitude of it," Gold said.

Doctors studied 48 middle-age women, comparing bone strength in those who were healthy to those suffering from depression. Depressed women had up to 15 percent more bone loss than healthy women, and their chances of breaking a hip increased by 40 percent.

doctor & patient

NIH researchers found that a depressed 40-year-old woman had bone loss equal to that of a 70-year-old. But it appears the problem can be reversed.

Up to 9 percent of U.S. women suffer from depression, but anti-depressants can dampen the damaging hormones. And new drugs can help rejuvenate frail bones.

"A previous history of major depression should alert us to the fact that this person may be at higher risk for developing osteoporosis. Further studies such as bone density scanning may be indicated earlier in life," Dr. Stephen Minton of Alexandria Hospital said.


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