Main content

    Nitroglycerin Boosts Bone Density and Bone Strength

    Researchers call it unique and promising

    San Francisco, CA, February 22, 2011 - Nitroglycerin is best known as a high explosive or a treatment for angina, but a new study in the February 23rd issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association says it may also be an effective therapy to strengthen bones and treat osteoporosis.

    “Our findings demonstrate that nitroglycerin ointment, in very low doses, can substantially increase bone density and improve bone geometry,” says Sophie A Jamal, MD, PhD of the Women’s College Research Institute and University of Toronto, Canada, and the lead author of the study. “Nitrates are widely available and inexpensive. As such these agents might be a promising way to reduce osteoporosis world wide.”

    “This is an exciting new treatment that is unlike any other drugs now used for osteoporosis,” says Steven R. Cummings, MD, of the San Francisco Coordinating Center at the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute, and the senior author of the study. “While other treatments work by either slowing the breakdown of bone, or increasing bone formation, nitroglycerin does both at the same time. It’s a unique quality that leads to an apparent significant increase in bone strength.”

    Jamal, Cummings, and researchers at the University of Toronto, Canada, followed 243 postmenopausal women for 24 months in a single center, double-blind, placebo controlled study. The women, none of whom had osteoporosis, were randomly assigned to receive either nitroglycerin ointment or a placebo. They pasted the ointment onto their skin at bedtime.

    At the end of the two year study women who were assigned to the nitroglycerin ointment group saw an increase of 7 percent in the bone mineral density (BMD) in their hip bones compared to women who were given a placebo. BMD indicates bone quantity- a strong indicator of fracture risk.

    “One of the most striking effects was the increase in cortical width or the thickness of the bone,” say Jamal and Cummings. “The nitroglycerin group saw an increase of almost 25 percent in their legs and an increase of 15 percent in their arms, compared to the placebo group. This was unexpected because it’s greater than you see with existing therapies.”

    There were some side effects of the treatment: about 25% of women had headaches with nitroglycerin and did not participate in the study. Of women who were enrolled, about 5% stopped because of headache.

    The researchers say the results from the study are very encouraging but further larger trials are needed, both to replicate these findings and to determine the effects on fracture, before any treatment recommendations can be made. Because nitroglycerin is not a patented product further research would most likely need the support of, and funding from, the National Institutes of Health.

    California Pacific Medical Center. Beyond Medicine
    At San Francisco’s California Pacific Medical Center, we believe in the power of medicine. We research the most up-to-date treatments, hire the most qualified individuals, and practice the most modern, innovative medicine available. We deliver the highest quality expert care, with kindness and compassion, in acute, post-acute and outpatient services, as well as preventive and complementary medicine. But we also believe that medicine alone is only part of the solution. That’s why we look intently at each individual case and treat the whole person, not just the illness. It’s why we go beyond medical care and provide our patients with things like disease counseling, family support and wellness treatments. As one of California’s largest private, community-based, not-for-profit, teaching medical centers, and a Sutter Health affiliate, we are able to reach deep into our community to provide education, screening and financial support in some of the city’s most underserved neighborhoods. Medicine can transform a body. But going beyond medicine can transform a life.

    Women’s College Research Institute (WCRI)
    Women’s College Hospital has established the WCRI as Canada’s largest research institute dedicated solely to generating knowledge about women’s health.

    As Canada’s only facility that tests women’s health-care innovations within an ambulatory care environment, WCRI is forging new ground by focusing on key areas of women’s health and sex- and gender-based medicine: women and violence, mental health, genetics and cancer, obstetrics, osteoporosis, diabetes, and HIV/AIDS.

    For Dr. Jamal contact Jodi Salem, (416) 323-6400 ext. 4054 or

    For Dr. Cummings contact Kevin McCormack, (415) 600-7484 or pager (415) 232-6463 or

    About Sutter Health
    Serving patients and their families in more than 100 Northern California cities and towns, Sutter Health doctors, not-for-profit hospitals and other health care service providers share resources and expertise to advance health care quality and access. The Sutter Medical Network includes many of California’s top-performing, highest quality physician organizations as measured annually by the Integrated Healthcare Association. Sutter-affiliated hospitals are regional leaders in cardiac care, women’s and children’s services, cancer care, orthopedics and advanced patient safety technology.

    For more information about the not-for-profit Sutter Health network, please visit: | |