Review Article

Treatments in Endocrinology

, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp 117-132

First online:

Calcitonin Therapy in Osteoporosis

  • Manuel Muñoz-TorresAffiliated withBone Metabolic Unit, Endocrinology Division, Hospital Universitario San Cecilio Email author 
  • , Guillermo AlonsoAffiliated withBone Metabolic Unit, Endocrinology Division, Hospital Universitario San Cecilio
  • , Pedro Mezquita RayaAffiliated withBone Metabolic Unit, Endocrinology Division, Hospital Universitario San Cecilio

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Abstract

Osteoporosis is the most prevalent metabolic bone disease and is characterized by diminished bone strength predisposing to an increased risk of fracture. Its incidence is particularly high in postmenopausal women but it can also affect other groups, such as men and patients receiving corticosteroid therapy.

Calcitonin is a naturally occurring peptide which acts via specific receptors to strongly inhibit osteoclast function. It has been used in the treatment of osteoporosis for many years. Historically, calcitonin was administered as a parenteral injection, but the intranasal formulation is now the most widely used because of its improved tolerability. New approaches are currently being investigated to enhance the bioavailability and effects of calcitonin, including oral, pulmonary, and transdermal routes of administration, and novel allosteric activators of the calcitonin receptor.

Several controlled trials have reported that calcitonin stabilizes and in some cases produces a short-term increase in bone density at the lumbar spine level. The most relevant clinical trial to evaluate the effect of calcitonin in the prevention of fractures was the Prevent Recurrence of Osteoporotic Fractures (PROOF) study, a 5-year double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial showing that salmon calcitonin nasal spray at a dosage of 200 IU/day can reduce the risk of vertebral osteoporotic fractures by 33% (relative risk [RR] = 0.67; 95% CI 0.47, 0.97; p = 0.03). However, the 100 and 400 IU/day dosages did not significantly reduce vertebral fracture risk. Effects on nonvertebral fractures were not significant (RR = 0.80; 95% CI 0.59, 1.09; p = 0.16).

There is mounting evidence to show that calcitonin diminishes bone pain in osteoporotic vertebral fractures, which may have clinical utility in vertebral crush fracture syndrome. A recent study suggests that nasal salmon calcitonin appears to be a promising therapeutic approach for the treatment of men with idiopathic osteoporosis, although long-term trials are necessary to confirm these results and evaluate fracture rate as an endpoint in men. The role of calcitonin in corticosteroid-induced osteoporosis remains controversial, hence it can only be considered a second-line agent for the treatment of patients with low bone mineral density who are receiving long-term corticosteroid therapy.