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Onset of Puberty and Osteoporosis Risk Linked


Puberty is a time when bones undergo a great deal of development, and now a new study reports that the onset of puberty is the main influence on bone strength and osteoporosis risk in adults. According to the researchers, the length of puberty does not appear to affect bone density.

Early puberty onset associated with greater bone mass

The National Osteoporosis Foundation reports that 85 percent of adult bone mass is accumulated by age 18 in females and by age 20 in males. Children and teens develop new bone faster than they lose old bone, even after they stop growing taller.

Approximately 10 million people in the United States alone have osteoporosis, while another 34 million have low bone density, which places them at increased risk for the disease. Fifty-five percent of Americans age 50 year or older have or are at risk for osteoporosis. A better understanding of the origins of this often debilitating disease could go a long way toward preventing and treating it.

An ongoing multicenter study called the Bone Mineral Density in Childhood Study is evaluating bone development in healthy children and adolescents in the United States. The current finding was announced by Vicente Gilsanz, MD, PhD, director of Clinical Imaging at The Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, and his research team.

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Gilsanz and his colleagues evaluated 78 girls and 84 boys who had just entered puberty and followed them until they reached sexual maturity. They found that “early puberty was associated with greater bone mass while later puberty resulted in less.”

During adulthood, bone loss occurs at a rate of approximately 1 to 2 percent per year. Natural early puberty is associated with a 10 to 20 percent increase in bone density, which corresponds to an additional one to two decades of protection against the decline in bone density and strength that occurs later in life.

Some research has even suggested that the risk of osteoporosis begins in the womb and during infancy. Researchers from the US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine and North Carolina State University conducted studies on neonatal pigs as surrogates for human infants and reported that the presence of fewer osteoblasts (bone-forming cells) during infancy may result in a reduced ability of bones to grow and repair themselves during later years.

Identifying a link between early puberty and the onset of osteoporosis in later life may help improve how health professionals go about implementing preventive measures. Preventing osteoporosis begins in childhood, with attention to adequate calcium and vitamin D intake and regular exercise, and the possible addition of medications in later life to boost and continue the dietary and exercise efforts.

Children’s Hospital Los Angeles
National Osteoporosis Foundation