Medical Breakthroughs: Osteoporosis Mat

OSTEOPOROSIS: Osteoporosis is a bone disease that causes bones to become so thin they can break during normal daily activities, such as lifting a heavy object or rolling over in bed. It is often called the "silent disease" because bone loss occurs without symptoms.

According to the National Institutes of Health, 10 million people in the United States have the disease and 8 million of those are women. About 18 million more people have low bone mass, placing them at increased risk for osteoporosis. There are 1.5 million fractures that result from osteoporosis and, in 2001, $47 million was spent each day for osteoporatic fractures.

METHODS OF PREVENTION: Many think of osteoporosis as disease of the elderly. After the age of about 30, bone thinning is a natural process and cannot be stopped completely. However, it can strike at any age.

By age 20, the average woman has acquired 98 percent of her skeletal mass. Building strong bones during childhood and adolescence can be the best defense against developing osteoporosis later.

A comprehensive program that can help prevent osteoporosis includes:

  • A balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D
  • Weight-bearing exercises, such as jumping
  • A healthy lifestyle with no smoking and limited alcohol intake
  • Bone density testing and medication when appropriate

Bone density tests used either with ultrasound or by dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) can measure bone density in various sites of the body. A bone density test can detect osteoporosis before a fractures occurs, predict your chances of fracturing in the future, and determine your rate of bone loss.

THE MAT: Researchers from the University of Connecticut are studying another way to prevent osteoporosis. They believe electrical fields may build bone density and stimulate calcium growth when patients sleep on the mat. There are no magnets, batteries, or plugs involved. Inside the thin mat are 200 layers of aluminum and polyester.

When a person lies on it, the layers of material rub together and create a low level electrical field. The mat can also act as a capacitor so that when a person lies on it, energy is emitted. Researchers say this may affect bones. Half of the 70 women in the study sleep on the electromagnetic mat and half on a placebo mat.

Bone activity is monitored through changes in blood and urine, which are taken every six weeks. The study will also try to determine whether a subtle electric field can help boost the immune system.


Jane Shaskan
Office of Communications
University of Connecticut Health Center
(860) 679-4777

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