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A drug currently being investigated to treat Alzheimer’s could have the potential to ease menopause-related symptoms. Tim Booth/Stocksy
  • Menopause naturally occurs as a person who was assigned female at birth ages and their menstrual cycle ends.
  • During and after menopause, women are at an increased risk for weight gain and osteoporosis.
  • Researchers from the University of Central Florida have found a drug currently being studied to treat neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease may also help with the prevention of menopause-related bone loss and weight gain.

Menopause naturally occurs as a woman ages and her menstrual cycle ends.

During and after menopause, older women are at an increased risk for several health conditions including weight gain and osteoporosis, or weakening of the body’s bones.

The hormonal changes that occur during menopause are what drive weight gain. Lifestyle changes such as eating healthier foods, increasing activity, and limiting added sugars can help.

Menopause-related osteoporosis can be treated with medications, focusing on strength training exercises, and eating a healthy diet.

Now, researchers from the University of Central Florida have found a drug currently being studied to treat neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease may also help with the prevention of menopause-related bone loss and weight gain, via an animal model.

The study was recently published in the journal Advanced Science.

For this study, researchers focused on a new drug called P7C3 that was originally discovered in 2010 and is currently under evaluation for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and ALS.

“In the beginning, and as it hadn’t been studied before, we weren’t too sure it would work and promote bone formation,” Dr. Melanie Coathup, professor and director of the Biionix Cluster at the University of Central Florida and lead author of this study explained to Medical News Today. “We were aware of some exciting results in other labs where it had helped with diseases associated with neurodegeneration, but the response of bone was still a mystery.”

“We performed a few initial bench-top tests in the lab and were immediately astonished as to how well the results came back,” Dr. Coathup continued. “We then progressed and at each step, and as we introduced more experimental tests, the results stayed highly positive.”

So far, Dr. Coathup said, P7C3 seems to be helping with postmenopausal symptoms by reducing systemic inflammation in the body and promoting bone formation at the expense of fat formation, as well as beneficially altering the gut microbiome, which seems to further strengthen the body’s fight against inflammation and regulating bone over fat mass.

“I suspect this may fundamentally be down to an improved basal metabolic rate. This then suggests P7C3 may also help with other tissues influenced by menopause including our muscles and perhaps neuro-related conditions — and so there’s lots still to investigate,” she added.

For this study, researchers used an animal model to see if P7C3 would be effective against menopause-related bone loss and weight gain.

“When we began this study, the idea was to investigate our new drug P7C3, in the hope that it would stop the post-menopausal bone loss and fractures that can commonly happen to women,” Dr. Coathup said.

“The reason why we were looking for new ways to treat menopause-related bone loss is because, at the moment, there is no definitive way of preventing or treating osteoporosis in men and women.”
— Dr. Melanie Coathup

Dr. Coathup and her team found that P7C3 treatment helped prevent bone loss in the animal study, including in models of low estrogen.

“Low estrogen is associated with weakened bones and bones more likely to fracture, as well as weight gain. Estrogen or hormonal replacement therapy has been used to treat the symptoms of menopause in the past, however, its safe use has been questioned recently,” she explained.

Additionally, scientists found the use of P7C3 helped prevent weight gain associated with menopause.

Dr. Coathup said it was only as the study progressed that they observed obvious differences in the weight of the animals.

“This was an incredibly interesting and exciting find and tells us that there must be a key inverse link between bone mass and body fat. Based on our initial bench-top experiments, I anticipated that the fat within the bone marrow in our bones may be beneficially altered by P7C3, however, it was a huge surprise to find it had such a profound effect on fat deposits under the skin and around our internal organs,” she continued.

“I’m not sure of the underlying biological reasons for this just yet, or how P7C3 — similar to estrogen — is influencing this, but this will definitely form future work,” Dr. Coathup added.

After reviewing this study, Dr. G. Thomas Ruiz, a board certified OB/GYN and lead OB/GYN at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA, told MNT he found the study interesting, especially for women unable to use estrogen.

“Not all women can use estrogen because of contraindications — alternative non-hormonal therapy is very important,” Dr. Ruiz explained. “The morbidity and mortality from osteoporosis is significant. I want to see safety data for long-term use. I also want a head-to-head comparison with estrogen using bone density studies.”

Dr. Sherry Ross, OB/GYN and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, told MNT she is “ecstatic and hopeful” that PC73 can someday be a long-term and safer treatment option for two common menopausal problems disrupting women’s lives.

“It’s well known that women are disproportionately excluded from medical research for common health problems compared to men,” Dr. Ross continued. “There are very few and well-tolerated treatment options available to control osteoporosis and weight gain/obesity. With a handful of medications available, and many with harmful and disruptive side effects, compliance can be a problem.”

“Finding more effective and safer medications for these chronic conditions will ultimately improve the quality of life for women. With safer and longer-tolerated medication to better control them, there will be a reduction of the collateral damage they can cause, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, fractures, joint pain, and death.”
— Dr. Sherry Ross

MNT also spoke with Dr. Scott Smilen, chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Hackensack Meridian Jersey Shore University Medical Center and professor at Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine in New Jersey, about this research.

Dr. Smilen commented it was exciting to see new ideas evaluated scientifically which may ultimately benefit human health.

“Certainly, a medication which has the potential to significantly reduce bone loss could have an enormous positive impact (on) the population,” he continued.

“Osteoporosis is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality as people age. With life expectancy increasing, this will become an even more commonly seen problem and one that is very costly and detrimental to health and quality of life. While there are various strategies to try to prevent and treat osteoporosis — including weight-bearing exercise, dietary calcium, and medication — medication treatment has sometimes significant side effects which make them difficult to use long-term for patients.”
— Dr. Scott Smilen

As this was an animal study, Dr. Smilen said further research needs to be conducted to verify similar effects in human beings, as well as to establish safety.

“There is promise here, but many drugs [that] have worked well in animals in a laboratory have not shown the same efficacy in humans, and importantly, we do not yet know anything about the potential for side effects,” he added.