MARCH 01, 2008

Chocolate: Helps the Heart, But Bad for Bones?

In the wake of evidence that consuming chocolate can reduce the risk of certain heart ailments, new studies are showing that the tasty treat may not be so good for the bones. The findings showed that older women who ate some chocolate every day had weaker, thinner bones than those who ate chocolate less frequently—the relationship was independent of other dietary factors. Although chocolates are rich in flavonoids, they are high in oxalate, which blocks calcium absorption, and sugar. The findings were published in the January issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Researchers from the University of Western Australia School of Medicine and Pharmacology in Perth studied the data on 1001 women aged 70 to 85 who were participating in a study on calcium supplementation and fracture risk.Women who ate chocolate every day matched those who ate less chocolate in other daily consumptions. The chocolate eaters also weighed less and had an overall lower average body mass index than their peers. These women, however, had a 3.1% lower bone density and weaker bones in the heel and shin than those who ate less chocolate.

RA Treatment May Have Other Benefits

A team of doctors and scientists at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York found that a category of medicine used to treat patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) also has a profound positive effect on the immune system by breaking up molecular clusters for rogue cells that encourage autoimmune diseases like RA. The medicines, known as anti?tumor necrosis factor (anti-TNF) compounds, help eliminate abnormal activity in germinal centers, which take part in the development of many autoimmune diseases. The findings were published in the January 15 issue of the Journal of Immunology.

The study was sponsored by a number of arthritis organizations, and the researchers found that anti-TNF drugs disrupt structures in the lymph system called germinal centers, which usually appear at the onset of an illness to program the body?s natural defense cells to attack the illness. Normally, once the disease has passed, the germinal centers dissipate, but in autoimmune diseases, they linger, causing the defense cells to attack healthy tissue. Researchers found that taking anti-TNF drugs inhibits the formation of the "renegade" germinal centers, affording the lymph system the opportunity to recover from disease properly.

Women Postpone Knee Surgery

A study by the University of Delaware shows that women are more likely to wait longer to undergo knee-replacement surgery than men. Women tend to put the surgery off until they can no longer tolerate the pain, but in doing so, they may be risking their quality of life and mobility considerably. Researchers noted that doctors sometimes give this advice to patients facing knee replacement, which could do more harm than good.

The study, which was funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, looked at 229 candidates for total knee replacement, including 95 men and 126 women with osteoarthritis (OA). They were compared with 44 healthy men and women who matched them in age and body mass index. Each patient took part in a series of physical tests (eg, stair climbing, 6-minute walk). Although the men had more knee function than the women, the women with OA showed a greater degree of disability and were all found to have "painful, end-stage OA." The findings were reported in the November 2007 issue of the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery.

Osteoporosis: It?s Not Just for Women

Osteoporosis is usually proclaimed as being an afflicter of women, but more attention is being drawn to the prevalence of the disease among men as well. The National Osteoporosis Foundation reports that 12 million men are at risk and 2 million currently have osteoporosis, but it remains greatly underdiagnosed and undertreated in men. They stated that 1 in 5 men will develop osteoporosis and 1 in 4 will suffer from a fracture related to the disease at some point.

Men tend to have larger, stronger bones than women, which may explain why osteoporosis affects fewer men than women. According to the National Institutes of Health's Osteoporosis and Related Bone Disease National Resource Center, the most common causes of secondary osteoporosis in men include alcohol abuse; smoking; chronic diseases that affect the kidneys, lungs, stomach, intestines, and hormone levels; and lack of activity. Low levels of testosterone and excessive loss of calcium in the urine also can contribute to osteoporosis in men.

F A S T   F A C T : According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the annual cost of arthritis to the US economy was $128 billion in 2003.