Scientists at the University of Toronto have discovered a link between nitroglycerin, the chemical that also makes dynamite, and improvements in treating osteoporosis.
According to the National Foundation of Osteoporosis, approximately 10 million Americans suffer from this most common type of bone disease in which the bones become weak and break easily. The body, as we age, becomes inefficient at making new bone.
Half of all women over the age of 50 are expected to break a bone because of osteoporosis. The most common cause of osteoporosis in women is the drop of estrogen at the time of menopause.
Nitroglycerin has been shown to decrease the rate that bone cells die and small doses actually encourage the growth of new bone cells.
The researchers from the Osteoporosis Clinic at Women’s College Research Institute (WCRI) conducted a study over a two-year period in which the participants applied a topical nitroglycerin ointment daily. The study involved 243 post-menopausal women already taking a daily calcium and vitamin D supplement. Half of the women used the ointment containing nitroglycerin and the other half were given a placebo.
The researchers found that daily use of the inexpensive ointment improved bone strength and helped prevent fractures. Their findings were presented at the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research at their annual meeting in Toronto.
The ointment works by releasing nitric oxide gas into the body. The study revealed that as the chemical dissolves into the skin and enters the bloodstream the gas has an effect on the bone cells. The gas increases production of osteoblasts which encourages healthy new bone and also decreases osteoclasts, the cells responsible for breaking down old bone.
The use of the ointment increased the women’s bone mineral density (BMD) at three points – lumbar spine, femoral neck and total hip.
The colorless and oily liquid was once a very unstable gas. Swedish chemist Alfred Noble back in the 19th century discovered a method of stabilizing the gas making it safe for transportation. It was then that it was patented under the name “dynamite”.