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Are Asthma Drugs Harmful To Young Women?

Are Asthma Drugs Harmful To Young Women?New research links popular asthma inhalants with bone loss, but a Tufts expert says there are ways to limit the risks

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [10.04.01] New research suggests that inhaled steroids, which are regularly used to treat asthma, may have some harmful side effects for young women. In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers linked the use of inhaled corticosteroids with bone loss -- which can lead to osteoporosis, a disease that affects over 10 million people in the United States alone. But a leading Tufts expert says women who use these medications should take specific precautions to reduce their risks.

"There are ways -- medical, nutritional and otherwise -- to prevent some, if not all, of this medical therapy-induced bone loss," Tufts' Bess Dawson-Hughes said in a USA Today article.

According to the newly released studies, regular use of the inhalants -- described as among the most effective and safest treatments for asthma -- appears to cause bone loss in the hip. The more a patient used the medications, the larger the loss in bone density.

And low bone density, reports the National Osteoporosis Foundation, puts patients at risk of developing osteoporosis, a debilitating disease that is responsible for over 1.5 million bone fractures every year.

Dawson-Hughes, who is one of the nation's leading experts on bone metabolism, said patients don't need to stop using the medications -- if they can take some precautions.

"Although substantial research has shown that some medical therapies accelerate bone loss, there are protective measures that can be taken in conjunction with these treatments," she told CBS News.

"The best-established measures for minimizing bone loss ... are weight bearing exercise and adequate calcium and vitamin D intake," she wrote in an editorial that accompanied the studies in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The Tufts expert and scientist at Tufts' Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging also said that oral contraceptives may also be an effective way to reduce patients' risks.

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