Common osteoporosis drug may protect patients from developing diabetes

AALBORG, Denmark — The osteoporosis drug alendronate may be doing more for patients than just strengthening bones. A new study reveals the prescription medication also appears to be reducing a patient’s chances of developing type 2 diabetes. Moreover, researchers say that protection only gets stronger the longer a person takes alendronate.

Dr. Rikke Viggers from Aalborg University Hospital in Denmark says diabetes patients generally have a higher risk of bone fractures, which suggests that there’s a link between how the body regulates blood sugar and bone health. Recent studies on animals also show that osteoporosis drugs affect glucose regulation as they strengthen bone cells.

“Thus, we speculated that the treatment of osteoporosis might impact on the risk of type 2 diabetes,” says Dr. Viggers in a media release.

Alendronate cuts diabetes risk by a third

Researchers compared diabetes rates among osteoporosis patients taking alendronate and those not taking the drug. Specifically, alendronate and other bone density medications (bisphosphonates) help to strengthen the bones and lower a person’s risk of fracture.

Study authors used hospital records to identify which patients had diabetes between 2008 and 2018. They then matched each patient with three similar but healthy individuals from the general population. In total, researchers examined 163,588 patients with type 2 diabetes and 490,764 people without diabetes. The group had an average age of 67 years-old.

Using prescription drug records in the country, the team noted which of these individuals in both groups used alendronate for bone health. Their findings reveal that taking alendronate made someone 34 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those not using the drug.

Additionally, taking alendronate for more than eight years leads to a 53-percent drop in the chances that patient will develop diabetes. The team confirmed that there appears to be a definite dose-dependent effect of taking alendronate — meaning the more someone takes, the lower their odds of developing diabetes become.

What makes alendronate so effective?

At the moment, it’s not clear how alendronate reduces diabetes risk, but researchers believe the drug lowers low-grade inflammation and oxidative stress. Scientists believe both of these problems are key to triggering insulin resistance. When this occurs, the body is unable to respond well to insulin and can’t easily take up glucose from the blood — the main feature of type 2 diabetes.

Study authors say it’s also unclear if other osteoporosis drugs will have the same effect as alendronate. Osteoporosis is a condition which causes bones to become weak and brittle. For many patients, even a mild fall or stressors (like bending over or coughing) can cause a fracture. In any person, bone is a living tissue that the body constantly breaks down and replaces. In patients with osteoporosis, the creation of new bone can’t keep up with the loss of old bone.

Researchers presented their findings at the annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD).

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