World Heath Matters: Denmark: Weight loss without bone loss?

by Gary Finnegan: Rapid weight loss can lead to a loss of bone mass and an increased risk of bone fractures. A study by University of Copenhagen, Hvidovre and Glostrup Hospital, suggests a new obesity treatment could help patients to lose weight without jeopardising bone health.

Researchers have been examining the intestinal hormone GLP-1 and its role in protecting bones for patients on intensive weight loss programmes. The hormone has been shown to promote the formation of new bone and to have a positive effect on blood sugar levels.

“GLP-1 analogues like liraglutide are today widely used in the treatment of type 2 diabetes and have been shown not to increase the risk of bone fractures, unlike other diabetes drugs,” says physician and PhD student Dr Eva Winning Jepsen from the Department of Biomedical Sciences and the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research, University of Copenhagen.

“Liraglutide has just been approved for obesity treatment because of its appetite-inhibiting effects, but its effect on the bones of overweight patients who are not suffering from type 2 diabetes has so far been unknown,” she adds.

The study looked at 37 women who achieved a large weight loss of 12kg by eating a low-calorie diet. The women were divided into two groups: one which was given the GLP-1 analogue liraglutide, and a control group.

Over a one-year period, the women were given frequent dietary advice to help them maintain their weight loss; and if they gained weight, they could replace up to two meals with a low-calorie powder.

After a year, both groups had maintained their weight loss. The women in the control group had maintained their weight by replacing one meal a day with a low-calorie diet. The study showed that the liraglutide group had not lost any bone mass and had increased blood levels of bone formation markers as opposed to the control group which had lost bone mass.

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism and was presented at the ‘American Diabetes Association’ (ADA) in Boston in June 2015.

“Menopausal women have an increased risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures. If they try to lose weight and thus lose even more bone mass, they are at an even higher risk,” explains Signe Soerensen Torekov, Associate Professor at the University of Copenhagen.

“The study shows that overweight women can now lose weight with liraglutide without increasing the risk of losing bone mass. At the same time, they also achieve a number of other positive effects on their sugar metabolism which are not achieved through a diet-induced weight loss alone,” he says.