Besides treating angina, nitroglycerin ointment may reverse osteoporosis

When nitroglycerin was first synthesized in 1847, its inventor, Ascanio Sobrero, was so frightened by its destructive volatility that he kept it secret for a whole year - but today, the compound has a number of constructive medical uses, the latest of which is treating osteoporosis.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has found that daily application of prescription nitroglycerin ointment to skin appears to promote bone growth among postmenopausal women.

Nitroglycerin ointment is already used to treat angina pectoris, a heart condition in which the blood vessels are too narrow to admit enough blood to the cardiac muscles. Nitroglycerin acts as a vasodilator, meaning that it opens up blood vessels.



While the connection between this effect and the medication's ability to promote bone growth is still unclear, the new study's authors are cautiously singing the treatment's praises.



To come to their conclusion, researchers tested the effect of nitroglycerin ointment among nearly 250 women with osteoporosis or low bone mass densities (BMDs). The team asked the participants to apply the medication to the skin of their upper arm every night for two years.

Afterward, researchers tested each woman's BMD in certain bodily locations, including the lumbar, neck, hip and femur. These are the sites of some of the most common osteoporosis-related fractures.

For example, a 50-year-old white woman has a 16 percent chance of developing at least one vertebral pressure fracture in her lifetime, as well as a 2.8 percent risk of hip fracture-related death in her remaining lifetime, according to the International Osteoporosis Foundation.

The team found that women who took nitroglycerin experienced a BMD increase of between 6 and 7 percent in the bones of their vertebrae, hips and necks. Their overall BMDs also tended to rise, indicating that the medication stimulates bone growth among those with or at risk for osteoporosis.

Among Americans over the age of 50, 55 percent are affected by osteoporosis, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. 
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