'Holocaust may have contributed to later osteoporosis'

Women and men who were children or teens during World War II, when their bones were developing, are at higher risk of decalcified bones.

Laufer 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Laufer 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Osteoporosis – the thinning of bones that can lead to dangerous fractures – can be a direct result of starvation and emotional stress, and is common among Holocaust survivors, according to a bone expert at Sheba Medical Center. Dr. Iris Vered of the osteoporosis service in the Tel Hashomer hospital’s endocrine institute has completed a unique study of a large number of survivors. She found that women and men who were children or teens during World War II, when their bones were developing, are at higher risk of decalcified bones than contemporaries who did not live through those terrible years. News of her study was published in the medical center’s September newsletter.
Holocaust survivors tended to suffer from severe shortages of vitamin D and other vitamins, proteins, calcium and phosphorus due to their minimal diet, whether in concentration camps or hiding. Starvation and traumatic events also reduce the production of sex hormones, which also harms bone mass. In girls, the onset of menstruation was delayed, and this too affected bone development, according to Vered. Post-traumatic stress disorder that is chronic is many Holocaust survivors increases the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which is another risk factor for osteoporosis, she noted, and people suffering from depression who take SSRI drugs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) are at higher risk for osteoporosis.
Her findings were the basis of a recommendation of a state committee headed by Prof. Mordechai Shani to recognize the connection between surviving the Holocaust at a young age and osteoporosis in old age. As a result, such a personal history has been accepted as a criterion for recognizing the physical disability of such survivors, and they get benefits for it.
MUSCULAR DYSTROPHY MUTATION DISCOVERED The genetic cause of the main type of muscular dystrophy (facioscapulohumeral) has finally been discovered by an international team that spent decades looking for it. FSHD is characterized by weakness starting in the muscles of the face, shoulder blade area and upper arms, with possible progression to other parts of the body. The US Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA), which helped fund the research, recently heralded the landmark discovery by scientists and physicians from the Netherlands, US, France and Spain.
Led by Dr. Silvere van der Maarel of the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, the collaborative study of more than 2,300 people found that two distinct genetic changes on chromosome #4 must be present to produce FSHD.
Dr.Rodney Howell, board chairman of MDA, said: “It will now be much easier to definitively diagnose FSH dystrophy in people showing symptoms of the disease, and to predict in people showing no symptoms who will develop the disease.
Also, investigators can now start exploring a number of promising drug-therapy approaches. Generous Americans responding to the annual Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon and to thousands of other special events benefiting the families served by MDA deserve much of the credit for the rapid progress being made toward treatments for neuromuscular diseases.”
CROWNING GLORY Losing their hair temporarily to chemotherapy is one of the most distressing side effects for many cancer patients. Wigs are often unaffordable for them. Now the Israel Cancer Association has launched a project called “Look Good, Feel Better” to provide wigs at no cost to such patients. Professional wigmakers and stylists, cosmeticians and makeup artists volunteer to suit the wigs to the recipients and style them as part of the project, which is run around the country by Francine Robinson. The service is available at ICA headquarters in Givatayim and in the association’s branches around the country. Queries can be made to Silvia Alshvili at (03) 572-1618 between 8 a.m. and 3.30 p.m,. or by e-mail to silvia_a@cancer.org.il.
BONING UP For the first time in Israel, orthopedic surgery to repair a fractured arm has been performed at Hadera’s Hillel Yaffe Medical Center using a nail made of carbon fibers instead titanium alloys, stainless steel or other metals. One advantage, according to the deputy director of the orthopedic surgery department, Dr. Gil Laufer, is that it is more flexible. Another is that it enables MRI (magnetic resonance instrument) scans to be performed: The presence of metals makes it impossible for the sophisticated magnetic device to be used. In addition, CT (computerized tomography) scans are disrupted when metal is present, so the carbon-fiber nail results in a more accurate image. As radiation “ignores” carbon, cancer patients who have to undergo radiotherapy are exposed to less than those with metal nails.
Laufer noted that the carbon nail can be inserted using minimally invasive surgery rather than by opening the limb down to the bone.
Soon, carbon fiber nails suited for repairing bone fractures in other limbs will be available, he said. Only in the past year has the special nail been used in the US and other parts of the world, after the Food and Drug Administration gave its approval.