Dr. Clifford Rosen, osteoporosis researcher
Dr. Clifford Rosen/MMCRI Researcher

Researchers at the Maine Medical Center Research Institute (MMCRI) have begun a study on whether a common blood pressure medication might help prevent bone loss. Called the Atenolol for the Prevention of Osteoporosis (APO) study, it is funded at MMCRI by a four-year $2.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health National Institute on Aging. The Maine researchers are collaborating with colleagues from the Mayo Clinic, Columbia University Medical Center, and the University at San Franciso.

The goal of the study is to determine if the beta blocker Atenolol, which is commonly used to lower blood pressure, can also help prevent osteoporosis, or brittle bones, in post-menopausal women. Most people’s bones are as dense as they’ll ever be between the ages of 18 to 25. By the time you reach 35, density begins to gradually decrease until menopause. After a woman goes through menopause, bone loss happens more rapidly — as much as 20 percent in five to seven years. Losing too much bone can lead to osteoporosis, which means bones are brittle and can break with little effort. If your bones are slightly less dense than normal, you may have what is called osteopenia.

Why Atenolol?

According to a news release from MMCRI, new research suggests that certain nerves that increase heart rate and blood pressure may also cause loss of bone strength, especially after menopause. Atenolol blocks the effect of nerves, slowing the heart rate and reducing blood pressure. The study will look at whether that same mechanism will help preserve bone.

“Current methods of preserving bone in post-menopausal women, such as estrogen, can be effective in the short term for women in their 40s and 50s, but have the potential to cause serious side effects after age 60,” said Irwin Brodsky, M.D., M.P.H., MMCRI’s principal investigator on this study with Clifford Rosen, M.D. “Our hope is that Atenolol will improve the long-term bone health of older women with fewer side effects.”

Researchers at all four institutes will follow healthy post-menopausal women between the ages of 50 and 75 for two years. Participants will take a half dose of Atenolol for a month to determine if they can tolerate the medication. Those who are able to will be randomly assigned either a 50-milligram dose or a placebo each day for the duration of the study. The women will keep a diary of their health and symptoms and visit the study office every six months for blood and bone density tests.

Interested in participating in osteoporosis study?

If you are interested in participating in the study contact the research team in Maine at (207) 396-6850 or apostudy@mmc.org. Because this is a study on the prevention of osteoporosis, women who already have osteoporosis are not eligible. Those with certain medical conditions or taking certain medications also may not qualify.