Links between cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis in postmenopausal women: serum lipids or atherosclerosis per se?
Epidemiological observations suggest links between osteoporosis and risk of acute cardiovascular events and vice versa. Whether the two clinical conditions are linked by common pathogenic factors or atherosclerosis per se remains incompletely understood. We investigated whether serum lipids and polymorphism in the ApoE gene modifying serum lipids could be a biological linkage.
This was an observational study including 1176 elderly women 60-85 years old. Women were genotyped for epsilon (epsilon) allelic variants of the ApoE gene, and data concerning serum lipids (total cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL-C, LDL-C, apoA1, ApoB, Lp(a)), hip and spine BMD, aorta calcification (AC), radiographic vertebral fracture and self-reported wrist and hip fractures, cardiovascular events together with a wide array of demographic and lifestyle characteristics were collected.
Presence of the ApoE epsilon 4 allele had a significant impact on serum lipid profile, yet no association with spine/hip BMD or AC could be established. In multiple regression models, apoA1 was a significant independent contributor to the variation in AC. However, none of the lipid components were independent contributors to the variation in spine or hip BMD. When comparing the women with or without vertebral fractures, serum triglycerides showed significant differences. This finding was however not applicable to hip or wrist fractures. After adjustment for age, severe AC score (>or=6) and/or manifest cardiovascular disease increased the risk of hip but not vertebral or wrist fractures.
The contribution of serum lipids to the modulators of BMD does not seem to be direct but rather indirect via promotion of atherosclerosis, which in turn can affect bone metabolism locally, especially when skeletal sites supplied by end-arteries are concerned. Further studies are needed to explore the genetic or environmental risk factors underlying the association of low triglyceride levels to vertebral fractures.
In summary, the results of the present observational study provide further evidence for the independent association of peripheral vascular disease with osteoporosis in the proximal femur. Since the association of lipids and lipoproteins to BMD and non-vertebral fractures is not independent of the severity of AC, it seems unlikely that these metabolites exert direct and clinically significant effects on bone turnover in postmenopausal women. Their contribution is via promotion of atherogenesis, in which regard ApoA1 levels seem to take a leading role. The remaining issue to be clarified is which genetic or environmental factors underlie the association of low triglycerides levels to vertebral fractures.