Can Photobiomodulation Improve Bone Density?

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 10.2 million American adults have osteoporosis. People with osteoporosis have bones so fragile that they can break as a result of everyday mishaps, like coughing or bumping into something. Another 43.4 million people are on their way to osteoporosis. That’s how many the Foundation says have low bone mass, which is called osteopenia.

There are a lot of possible drivers of bone loss: your genetics or medical conditions such as type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease. There are also risk factors in lifestyle choices: smoking, drinking, and an inactive lifestyle all seem to be linked. Of course, nutrition plays a major role. Good bone density requires adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D.

Your bones are constantly being rebuilt during your lifetime. At the age of about 30, however, you start to lose more bone density than you replace. Both male and female hormones play a role in bone loss. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Osteoporosis is more common in women. It affects about 25% (1 in 4) of women aged 65 and over and about 5% (1 in 20) of men aged 65 and over.” The reason it is so much more common in women is menopause, which reduces a woman’s supply of estrogen. Estrogen preserves bone density, in both women and men. Men apparently don’t need as much estrogen for this task as women, and most men have about as much as they need because their bodies convert testosterone to estrogen. This is why doctors will often prescribe testosterone replacement for men with osteoporosis.

As long as we’re on the subject of testosterone, why not consider photobiomodulation (PBM) for bone health? In a previous post, I wrote about a study that showed PBM increased testosterone levels in the blood of male rats. The effect was sufficient to cause the researchers to recommend PBM as an alternative treatment for testosterone deficiency. For a man, then, it is likely that regular sessions of PBM can help to prevent osteopenia and osteoporosis. But there may even be a more direct connection between PBM and bone health.

A 2014 doctoral dissertation (PDF) by a graduate nursing student at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee described the results of a series of experiments with PBM. Lisa Lauren Anderson-Antle worked with bone cells, counting the formation of osteoclasts (cells critical to bone resorption) under the influence of PBM. What she found in her experiments caused her to title the dissertation “Use of Photobiomodulation in Osteoclast Formation: Possible Intervention for the Treatment of Osteoporosis.”

It is still too early to say whether PBM could be an effective treatment for bone density loss. But the evidence is mounting that PBM can mean healthier bones, even for people over 30. If you think you might have low bone density, see your doctor, because there are recognized treatments. If you want to improve your bone health in general, watch your diet, see to your lifestyle choices, and consider booking a PBM session at Peak Recovery & Health Center.

Image: “Side View of the Bones of the Torso” from an 18th century book of medical engravings posted by University of Liverpool Faculty of Health and Life Sciences. Creative Commons license.