, Volume 19, Issue 8, pp 825-831
Date: 09 Jun 2004

The peak bone mass concept: is it still relevant?

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Abstract

The peak bone mass concept implies that optimal skeletal development during childhood and adolescence will prevent fractures in late adulthood. This concept is based on the observation that areal bone density increases with growth during childhood, is highest around 20 years of age and declines thereafter. However, it is now clear that strong bones in the youngster do not necessarily lead to a fracture-free old age. In the recent bone densitometric literature, the terms bone mass and bone density are typically used synonymously. In physics, density has been defined as the mass of a body divided by its volume. In clinical practice and science, “bone density” usually has a different meaning—the degree to which a radiation beam is attenuated by a bone, as judged from a two-dimensional projection image (areal bone density). The attenuation of a radiation beam does not only depend on physical density, but also on bone size. A small bone therefore has a lower areal bone density than a larger bone, even if the physical density is the same. Consequently, a low areal bone density value can simply reflect the small size of an otherwise normal bone. At present, bone mass analysis is very useful for epidemiological studies on factors that may have an impact on bone development. There is an ongoing discussion about whether the World Health Organization (WHO) definition of osteoporosis is over-simplistic and requires upgrading to include indices representing the distribution of bone and mineral (bone strength indices). The following suggestions and recommendations outline a new concept: bone mass should not be related to age. There is now more and more evidence that bone mass should be related to bone size or muscle function. Thus analyzed, there is no such entity as a “peak bone mass”. Many studies are currently under way to evaluate whether these novel approaches increase sensitivity and specificity of fracture prediction in an individual. Furthermore, the focus of many bone researchers is shifting away from bone mass to bone geometry or bone strength. Bone mass is one surrogate marker of bone strength. Widely available techniques for measurement of bone mass, such as dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, radiogrammetry, and computed tomography, can also be used to measure variables of bone geometry such as cortical thickness, cortical area, and moment of inertia.