Background: Immunosuppression therapy with bolus glucocorticoids causes regional osteoporosis in the axial skeleton of heart transplant recipients (HTR). No preventive strategy is generally accepted for steroid-induced bone loss.
Methods: To determine the efficacy of an anti-osteoporosis regimen that combined a bisphosphonate agent (alendronate sodium) with the osteogenic stimulus of mechanical loading, 25 HTRs were randomly assigned either to a group that received alendronate (10 mg/day) for 6 months (ALEN; n = 8), a group that received alendronate (10 mg/day) and performed specific resistance exercises for 6 months (ALEN + TRN; n = 8) or to a non-intervention control group (CONTR; n = 9). Alendronate was initiated at 2 months after transplantation. Bone mineral density (BMD) of the total body, femur neck and lumbar spine (L-2 and L-3) was measured by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry before and 2, 5 and 8 months after transplantation. Resistance training consisted of lumbar extension exercise (MedX) performed 1 day/week and 8 variable resistance exercises (MedX) performed 2 days/week.
Results: Pre-transplantation BMD values did not differ among the 3 groups. BMD of the total body, femur neck and lumbar vertebra were significantly decreased below baseline at 2 months after transplantation in CONTR (-2.6 +/- 0.9%, -5.1 +/- 1.8%, -12.5 +/- 4.2%, respectively), ALEN (-2.8 +/- 0.8%, -5.3 +/- 1.6%, -12.0 +/- 3.9%) and ALEN + TRN groups (-2.7 +/- 1.0%, -5.6 +/- 2.1%, -11.2 +/- 3.7%). CONTR had further significant losses of BMD after 3 and 6 months. ALEN had no further regional BMD losses after initiation of alendronate therapy. ALEN + TRN restored BMD of the whole body, femur neck and lumbar vertebra to within 0.9%, 2.1%, and 3.4% of pre-transplantation levels, respectively.
Conclusions: Resistance exercise plus alendronate was more efficacious than alendronate alone in restoring BMD in HTRs. Our results indicate that anti-osteoporosis therapy in this population should include both an anti-resorptive agent as well as an osteogenic stimulus, such as mechanical loading.