An estimated 3 million people in the UK suffer from osteoporosis, a condition that causes weak bones, making them fragile and easier to break. Shockingly, it causes 500,000 cases of broken bones each year. Bones are made up of collagen fibres that are tough and elastic. Cells in the bones regularly reabsorb bone and lay down new bone, essentially performing its own form of housekeeping on the bone to keep it healthy. When we are young and growing, more new bone is laid down than reabsorbed, but as we get older, the reverse happens. At the age of around 35, we start to lose bone material, density and strength as part of the ageing process. If too much loss occurs, a diagnosis of osteoporosis will be made.
Risk Factors for Osteoporosis
Losing bone density is a normal process as we get older, but there are certain risk factors to developing osteoporosis:
- Gender – women are more at risk than men, especially if their menopause begins before the age of 45.
- Genetics – having a family history of osteoporosis increases the risk, particularly if a parent has a history of hip fracture.
- Usage of high-dose, oral corticosteroids over an extended period of time.
- Various medical conditions – including malabsorption problems, hormone-related conditions or inflammatory conditions.
- Long term usage of certain medications which affect bone strength or hormone levels.
- Heavy drinking and smoking.
- A low body mass index (BMI).
Traditional Treatments for Osteoporosis
In healthcare today, there are a few traditional treatments for osteoporosis that aim to help strengthen the bones. These include:
- Bisphosphonates – these essentially reduce the rate at which your body breaks down bone. They generally take 6 to 12 months to take effect and normally need to be taken for at least 5 years. Negative side effects include problems swallowing, stomach pains, and irritation in the oesophagus.
- Parathyroid hormone treatment (teriparatide) – a natural hormone in the body that is involved in regulating the amount of calcium in bone. This stimulates the cells that create new bone but the most common side effect is unfortunately nausea.
- Selective oestrogen receptor modulators (SERMs). The main reason why women are more likely to suffer from osteoporosis is because the body stops producing oestrogen after the menopause. SERMs have a similar effect as oestrogen in maintaining bone density and reducing the risk of fractures. Patients may experience leg cramps, hot flushes, and an increased risk of blood clots.
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is commonly used for women to control the symptoms of menopause, and has also been known to maintain bone density. However, it is rarely used for osteoporosis as there has been research to suggest it may increase the risk of more serious conditions.
- Supplements like calcium and vitamin D can help maintain bone health.
Side-Effects of Treatments for Osteoporosis
Traditional medications all come with their side effects and downsides, some don’t work as well with others or can interfere. This is generally when people start to look for safer, more effective or natural alternatives. Research for CBD for osteoporosis is still in its infancy, with many more human studies and trials needed, but the early research suggests that CBD oil may potentially help people with osteoporosis.
For detailed information on how endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids interact in the body, visit our previous article page here.
Endocannabinoids are made in the bones, and it has been found that the CB2 receptors play a role in bone metabolism regulation by helping maintain the balance between the osteoblasts (the bone-forming cells) and the osteoclasts (the cells that reabsorb bone). This balance is key to to ensure optimal bone health. CBD can interact with these receptors, either by binding to them directly or inhibiting the enzymes the break down our natural endocannabinoid, anandamide. Either way, improving the productivity of the endocannabinoid system may have a positive effect on normal bone metabolism.
One study looked at the use of cannabinoids including CBD for recovery after bone fractures, and they found that fracture callus size reduced after 4 weeks with using CBD and stimulated mRNA expression (the process of information from gene is used to make a product) of osteoblast cells and an enzyme that helps with the collagen cross linking and stabilisation (collagen being what bone is made of) and the fibres start to link together during remodelling. They concluded that CBD can lead to improved bone fracture healing.
Another study mentioned a CB1 receptor deficiency may accelerate age-dependent osteoporosis, because of an increase in bone reabsorption and reduction in bone formation. The discovery that endocannabinoids are produced in bones (as well as other parts and systems of the body) and the role of the endocannabinoid system on bone metabolism has started the need for research into cannabinoids as a way to improve and maintain bone health. Again, the research for CBD oil needs more studies to verify the early promising findings. As using CBD oil is very safe to use, lots of people are trying it now and getting some benefit to easing symptoms.