In what could be an early step toward new treatments for people with osteoporosis, scientists at Michigan State University report that a natural probiotic supplement can help male mice produce healthier bones.
Interestingly, the same can't be said for female mice, the researchers report in the Journal of Cellular Physiology.
"We know that inflammation in the gut can cause bone loss, though it's unclear exactly why," said lead author Laura McCabe, a professor in MSU's departments of Physiology and Radiology. "The neat thing we found is that a probiotic can enhance bone density."
Probiotics are microorganisms that can help balance the immune system. For the study, the researchers fed the mice Lactobacillus reuteri, a probiotic known to reduce inflammation, a sometimes harmful effect of the body's immune response to infection.
"Through food fermentation, we've been eating bacteria that we classify as probiotics for thousands of years," said co-author Robert Britton, associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics. "There's evidence that this bacterium as a species has co-evolved with humans. It's indigenous to our intestinal tracts and is something that, if missing, might cause problems."
In the study, the male mice showed a significant increase in bone density after four weeks of treatment. There was no such effect when the researchers repeated the experiment with female mice, an anomaly they're now investigating.
By 2020, half of all Americans over 50 are expected to have low bone density or osteoporosis, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. About one in two women and one in four men over 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis.