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Abstract

We propose here a new unitary model for the pathophysiology of involutional osteoporosis that identifies estrogen (E) deficiency as the cause of both the early, accelerated and the late, slow phases of bone loss in postmenopausal women and as a contributing cause of the continuous phase of bone loss in aging men. The accelerated phase in women is most apparent during the first decade after menopause, involves disproportionate loss of cancellous bone, and is mediated mainly by loss of the direct restraining effects of E on bone cell function. The ensuing slow phase continues throughout life in women, involves proportionate losses of cancellous and cortical bone, and is associated with progressive secondary hyperparathyroidism. This phase is mediated mainly by loss of E action on extraskeletal calcium homeostasis which results in net calcium wasting and increases in the level of dietary calcium intake required to maintain bone balance. Because elderly men have low circulating levels of both bioavailable E and bioavailable testosterone (T) and because recent data suggest that E is at least as important as T in determining bone mass in aging men, E deficiency may also contribute substantially to the continuous bone loss of aging men. In both genders, E deficiency increases bone resorption and may also impair a compensatory increase in bone formation. For the most part, this unitary model is well supported by observational and experimental data and provides plausible explanations to traditional objections to a unitary hypothesis.