31 January 2011
Bone disease linked to late onset of puberty
by George Atkinson
Researchers at the Children's Hospital Los Angeles have determined that age of onset of puberty was the primary influence on adult bone strength, a finding that provides valuable clues in assessing osteoporosis risk.
Osteoporosis results in bones becoming increasingly brittle and at risk for fracture. Osteoporosis is a significant public health issue as it affects 55 percent of Americans aged 50 and older.
"Puberty has a significant role in bone development," explained researcher Dr. Vicente Gilsanz. "During this time, bones lengthen and increase in density. At the end of puberty the epiphyseal plates close, terminating the ability of the bones to lengthen. When this occurs, the teenager has reached their maximum adult height and peak bone mass. We found that early puberty was associated with greater bone mass while later puberty resulted in less."
The study sounds a warning for adolescents of short stature who undergo medical intervention to delay puberty in an effort to achieve greater height. Prolonging the growth period by delaying puberty may have unexpected consequences in later life, writes Dr. Gilsanz.
The care of patients with osteoporosis is difficult, and most therapies increase bone density by small amounts yet requires long periods of treatment. In contrast, during puberty large increases in bone density occur over a short period of time. Given that the rate of decline of bone mass in adulthood is approximately 1-2 percent each year, a 10-20 percent increase in bone density resulting from a natural early puberty corresponds to an additional 10 to 20 years of protection against the normal age-related decline in bone strength.
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Source: Children's Hospital Los Angeles