Calcium and vitamin D most effective for treatment of Crohn's-related bone loss

01/28/05

Bethesda, Maryland (Feb. 1, 2005) According to a study published today in the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, the addition of popular bone building drugs to calcium and vitamin D therapy to treat bone loss associated with Crohn's disease is not beneficial. Moreover, the study shows that calcium and vitamin D treatment alone can improve bone mineral density (BMD) in Crohn's patients by 3 to 4 percent per year.

"Patients with Crohn's often suffer loss of bone mass and an increased number of bone fractures due to treatment with corticosteroids, poor nutrition, active inflammation and calcium and vitamin D deficiencies," said Charles Bernstein, MD, author of an editorial appearing in this month's journal. "Calcium and vitamin D have long been used to enhance bone mass in people with Crohn's, and findings of these studies show it to be sufficient in maintaining BMD in these patients."

Crohn's disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes chronic inflammation of the intestinal wall. While the cause of Crohn's is relatively unknown, it usually starts during the teenage years or early adulthood and is characterized by pain in the abdomen, diarrhea and weight loss. According to the most recent data from the National Health Interview Survey, there are more than two million prevalent cases of Crohn's disease in the United States.

According to results of the study from researchers at the University of Alberta, adding the bone-building drug etidronate (Ditronel) to calcium and vitamin D therapy to treat bone loss in people with Crohn's disease adds no additional benefit. This study aimed to assess the efficacy of etidronate on bone loss in patients with Crohn's disease, an effect that has never before been studied in patients who were not menopausal or on corticosteroid therapy.

"Calcium and vitamin D therapy alone provide benefit to Crohn's patients who suffer from osteoporosis and osteopenia," said Richard Fedorak, MD, study author. "We encourage physicians to look for loss of bone density in high risk patients with Crohn's disease and to start calcium and vitamin D therapy immediately if there is either osteoporosis or osteopenia."

Prevention and treatment of low BMD associated with Crohn's disease includes vitamin D and calcium supplementation, education and lifestyle changes such as regular exercise and smoking cessation. Further randomized clinical trials are underway to determine if newer bone-building drugs will have additional beneficial effects on building bone mass in Crohn's patients. The results of those studies will not be available until next year. Until then, researchers suggest vitamin D and calcium supplementation as the primary treatment for bone loss in these patients.

"These results imply that physicians should only consider BMD testing and drug therapy for patients who are at higher risk for osteoporosis and fractures, not those who merely have Crohn's disease as a diagnosis," said Bernstein.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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