Why osteoporosis sufferers need to worry about "fatty bones"

January 21, 2014
Volume 11    |   Issue 03

If you've read some of the studies that have come out in recent years, you may think being overweight is protective against osteoporosis. But now there's overwhelming evidence that we need to rethink this.

We already know that obesity causes pressure on your bones, which is good - and the reasoning behind the long-held theory. But other risk factors cancel out this benefit. One that you may already know is excess belly fat. But a new study also looked at bone marrow - the spongy stuff inside of bones that makes stem cells - and found that the fat inside bones affects your bone density. You see, bone marrow fat is where your stem cells turn into osteoblasts. And osteoblasts are responsible for bone formation.

This study appeared in the journal Radiology. The lead author was Mariam A. Bredella, MD, a radiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and associate professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School.

The team studied 106 participants ages 19 to 45. All of them were obese based on body mass index standards, but were otherwise healthy. The team used a technique called proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy or MRS to measure fat precisely, but without radiation.

Dr. Bredella's team found that the higher the levels of fat in your liver, muscle tissue, and blood, the higher the levels of fat in your bone marrow are likely to be as well. She explained why this is significant: "In our study, we focused on bone marrow fat because that is where our stem cells can develop into osteoblasts - the cells responsible for bone formation - or fat cells. We also wanted to look at the relationship between bone marrow fat and other fat components, such as those in the liver and muscle."

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What's more, the team demonstrated that the subjects with more liver and muscle fat had more fat in their bone marrow, regardless of their BMI, age, or fitness level. And the more bone marrow fat they had, the lower their levels of "good" HDL cholesterol.

This is significant because the more bone marrow fat you have, the more your risk of fracture goes up. Dr. Bredella explains, "Bone marrow fat makes bones weak. If you have a spine that's filled with fat, it's not going to be as strong." Triglycerides, which make up fat in the blood, also cause bone marrow fat. And triglycerides stimulate osteoclasts, which break up bone tissues.

It seems that obesity can trigger stem cells in bone marrow to turn into fat rather than helpful bone-building osteoblasts. To protect yourself, it's vital you lose weight. You can read how to do so on my website. If you're overweight, your bones are likely to be weaker than normal. To prevent fractures, you'll also want to take a supplement like Ultimate Bone Support that prevents osteoporosis.

Your voice of reason in Women's Health,


Miriam A. Bredella, Corey M. Gill, Anu V. Gerweck, Melissa G. Landa, Vidhya Kumar, Scott M. Daley, Martin Torriani, and Karen K. Miller. Ectopic and Serum Lipid Levels Are Positively Associated with Bone Marrow Fat in Obesity Radiology. Radiology, 2013; DOI: 10.1148/radiol.13130375.

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