New research throws male fertility a bone

We’ve all heard that ‘milk does a body good’, but now there’s new incentive for men, in particular, to keep their bones healthy.

New research has found that a hormone produced by bones is needed for testosterone production in males.

In a paper published in the journal Cell on March 4, scientists showed that male mice that don’t make this bone hormone (osteocalcin) have smaller testes and are less fertile than normal mice. Female mice, on the other hand, aren’t affected by the hormone at all.

In women, estrogen (a hormone produced in the ovaries) decreases after age, leading to bone loss. That’s why women need their calcium to prevent osteoporosis. Based on the new research, headed by Dr. Gerard Karsenty at Columbia University, it seems that men may want to keep their bones healthy for other reasons. Instead of hormones causing bone loss, as in women, problems with the bone might cause hormone deficiencies in men. And those hormone deficiencies can lead to male infertility.

Of course, more research is needed to determine if what is true in mice is true in humans. We also don’t yet know whether calcium deficiency or other bone problems would cause a decrease in the osteocalcin hormone.

The most interesting thing about this research, and other current research on bone, is the emerging picture of the skeleton as more than just an inert bunch of minerals that hold our muscles in place. Instead, the skeleton is a dynamic hormone-secreting organ. The hormone, osteocalcin, plays a role in insulin signaling, the same pathway that’s involved in diabetes. Now, we know it is important for male fertility. And who knows what else the skeleton might be doing for us. It really is what holds us all together.

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