Bone loss, or osteoporosis, has been shown to go hand-in-hand with menopause for many women. As estrogen hormone levels decline, so does bone-formation activity, a health risk that may silently go unnoticed.
But research by two professors, both from the South Hills, indicates that melatonin, a natural hormone produced by the body during hours of darkness and a common over-the-counter supplement, shows promise as a preventative therapy by increasing the activity of bone-forming cells.
Dr. Paula Witt-Enderby of Bethel Park, professor in the Mylan School of Pharmacy at Duquesne University, and Dr. Judith Balk of Mount Lebanon, associate professor, University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine, Dept of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences Magee-Women's Hospital, are investigating the use of melatonin supplementation to improve bone health in women undergoing the beginning stages of menopause. They hope to target not only bone loss in women but also help to alleviate some of the symptoms of menopause, such as sleeplessness, anxiety, irritability and hot flashes.
After their initial research, Witt-Enderby, Balk and their team have moved to the clinical study phase and seek volunteers. Interested women should be 45 years or older, experiencing irregular periods and having had a least one period in the past six months. If eligible, besides contributing to the research project, participants will receive free bone density screenings, free wellness check-ups and compensation for session visits and parking. After the initial evaluation, session visits last 15 to 30 minutes and are only once a month for six months.
The clinical work is conducted in a newly renovated Duquesne University building on Fifth Avenue. Participants may receive melatonin or a placebo.
"Seven participants have completed the program, two are currently enrolled and we have two more coming in for the initial screening," said Dr. Witt-Enderby. "We are looking for nine more participants to reach our target of 20 women."
Those interested in being study participants are asked to call 412-396-5874. More information can be found at http://www-home.cr.duq.edu/~wittp/.
"We are approaching this as a quality-of-life issue," Dr. Witt-Enderby said. "We're trying to make the woman sleep better, help regulate her internal clocks so she feels better and at the same time her bones won't get destroyed."
The research is targeting women at the beginning of menopause because they have not yet experienced great bone loss, Dr. Witt-Enderby said. This research might prove an inexpensive, efficient way to help some of the 10 million Americans—80 percent of them women— who have osteoporosis, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.
Other members of the investigating team are Mylan School of Pharmacy faculty Dr. Christine O'Neil, Dr. Hilde Berdine and Dr. Holly Lassila.