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Duquesne University study aims to curb bone loss

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Monday, March 23, 2009, 10:36 a.m.

It is widely known that women start losing bone density as they get older.

Some women develop osteoporosis, a disease that thins and weakens bones to the point that they break easily.

A Duquesne University professor is studying a way to prevent bone deterioration using the over-the-counter hormone melatonin.

Melatonin supplements are widely used for sleep disorders and jet lag. But in addition to regulating the wake cycle, melatonin can help produce more cells that make bone, said Paula Witt-Enderby, a professor of pharmacology at Duquesne.

Her research targets women at the beginning of menopause, an ideal group because they have not yet experienced bone loss, Witt-Enderby said.

”We are approaching this from a quality-of-life issue,” she said. “We're trying to make the woman sleep better, help regulate her internal clocks so she feels better and at the same time the bones won't get destroyed.”

Witt-Enderby, who is doing the research in collaboration with Dr. Judith Balk of Magee-Womens Hospital, said melatonin could be a safe way to protect the bones. The National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that about 10 million Americans have osteoporosis, and 80 percent of them are women.

Six women have completed the trial, and researchers want to recruit 14 more. They must be older than 45 and meet several criteria. If they qualify, they will undergo a bone density test and obtain information to improve their bone health. Women in the study will take either melatonin or a placebo. They will take it at night because its release is stimulated by darkness and suppressed by light.

Witt-Enderby wants to secure funding for a second phase of the study, possibly in about a year, to determine the effects of melatonin in post-menopausal women. For details about the Duquesne University study of melatonin and bone density in older women, call 412-396-5874.

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