Inexpensive osteoporosis drug may protect against type 2 diabetes

September 29, 2021
Inexpensive osteoporosis drug may protect against type 2 diabetes

New research has identified a link between low rates of type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis patients treated with a drug called alendronate. The research analysed health records from several hundred thousand diabetes patients in Denmark, comparing diabetes rates among those prescribed alendronate with those who were not. It was later revealed that patients who had taken alendronate were 34% less likely to have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

The first-line treatment for osteoporosis, alendronate and other bisphosphonates helps strengthen bones and reduce the risk of a fracture. In contrast, diabetes patients have been known to have a higher risk of fractures, thought to result from poor blood sugar regulation that impacts bone quality; animal studies, meanwhile, have suggested that the modification of bone cells by osteoporosis drugs affects glucose regulation.

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“Thus, we speculated that the treatment of osteoporosis might impact on the risk of type 2 diabetes,” said Dr. Rikke Viggers, of Aalborg University Hospital, Aalborg, Denmark. She explained that type 2 diabetes was a chronic condition that could lead to “other serious health conditions” including stroke, heart disease, blindness, and even limb amputation – anything that prevents, or even delays diabetes will then reduce a person’s risk of all these other conditions.

“Excitingly, our research suggests that alendronate, an inexpensive medicine widely used to treat osteoporosis, may also protect against type 2 diabetes.”

Dr. Viggers and colleagues found patients on active treatment with alendronate were 34% less likely to have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes than those who had never taken the drug. Further analysis suggested a dose-dependent relationship whereby patients taking alendronate for at least eight years could potentially reduce the risk by more than half (53%) compared to those who have never used alendronate.

The underlying mechanism explaining how alendronate could influence glucose metabolism or lower the risk of diabetes is still unclear. One hypothesis suggests alendronate could prevent the development of insulin resistance by reducing levels of oxidative stress and low-grade inflammation.

It is not known if other osteoporosis drugs have the same effect.

At present, Dr. Viggers does not propose drugs such as alendronate be directly prescribed to patients with diabetes as a front-line treatment but does suggest doctors consider the potential broader benefits of these drugs when dealing with osteoporosis patients.

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