Dr. Sundeep Khosla, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic and author of an accompanying journal editorial, said that "while there are a number of drugs available to prevent or treat osteoporosis, most work to prevent further breakdown of bone, rather than build new bone."
However, nitroglycerin can actually stimulate the formation of new bone, he added. "Here's a drug that's been in use for decades to treat chest pain due to angina, that prevents bone loss and increases bone mass," he said.
Khosla thinks these findings are promising, but a large-scale study looking at whether the treatment prevents fractures is needed before nitroglycerin ointment can be recommended as a standard treatment.
"There are a lot of steps between what this study has shown before patients should ask for it or doctors should prescribe it specifically for osteoporosis," he said.
The study was funded by the Canadian Institute of Health Research and the Physicians' Services Incorporated.
Nitroglycerin ointment is fairly inexpensive and depends on how much one buys. For example, 30 grams of nitroglycerin ointment costs about $30 and that's good for about 2,000 applications at the dose used in the study.
Another report in the same journal found that older women taking drugs called bisphosphonates, such as Fosamax or Boniva, to prevent bone loss were at risk for rare fractures of their thigh bone.
This finding has been shown before and caused the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to start monitoring these rare fractures.
The risk appeared highest among women taking the drugs for five years or more. However, the absolute risk is very small and these drugs do prevent more common types of fractures, according to study author Dr. Laura Y. Park-Wyllie, of the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.
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