TUESDAY, Sept. 14, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Cardiovascular trouble and weakened bones are among the less welcome signs of aging, but heart drugs called beta blockers may help prevent both, researchers report.
A new Swiss study found patients taking the beta blocker propranolol (Inderal) were at 23 percent lower risk for bone fractures, compared with patients not on the drug.
If confirmed in other studies, beta blockers "might be preferentially prescribed in hypertensive patients with an increased risk of osteoporosis, if there is no contraindication for using a beta blocker," said study author Raymond Schlienger, of the University of Basel.
His team's research appears in the Sept. 15 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Long used to treat high blood pressure and angina, "beta blockers are one of the favorite medicines of cardiologists," said Dr. Roger Blumenthal, director of Johns Hopkins' Ciccarone Preventive Cardiology Center.
"They are one of the original heart medicines," he said, "and especially helpful in those with a history of heart attack or weakened heart muscle."
Previous research had suggested that another class of heart medications, thiazide diuretics, had the positive side effect of strengthening bone. Schlienger and his team wondered if beta blockers might do the same, so they compared six-year rates of bone fracture in more than 150,000 British heart patients between 30 and 79 years of age.
They found that patients taking propranolol for six months or more were at a 23 percent reduced risk of fracture compared to patients not on the drug. That risk dropped by 29 percent when patients were taking propranolol and a thiazide diuretic.
Schlienger said the exact mechanisms by which beta blockers might protect bone remain unclear, although studies in rats suggest it increases bone formation. He stressed, however, that the study only uncovered an association between beta blocker use and improved bone health -- not necessarily a cause-and-effect relationship.
Blumenthal said, "I think these findings are a surprise to many physicians. There's certainly data that thiazide diuretics help preserve bone mineral density, but there hadn't been any clear data about beta blockers. It seems to be another reason, especially in someone with decreased bone mineral density, to consider using a beta blocker."
The study was funded by a grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation.
The Texas Heart Institute has more on beta blockers.