Haims: Studying pregnancy leads to better understanding of bone health, stem cell therapy (column) | VailDaily.com

Haims: Studying pregnancy leads to better understanding of bone health, stem cell therapy (column)

Judson Haims
Special to the Daily

Editor's note: This is the second part of a two-part series summarizing research presented at the fourth annual Vail Scientific Summit, held Aug. 19-21. Find the first installment at http://www.vaildaily.com.

Until recently, pregnancy was thought to not only prematurely age women but also to have negative consequences on their health. Locally, Dr. Johnny Huard, chief scientific officer at the Steadman Philippon Research Institute, has been conducting research that may prove otherwise.

Along with Huard, many world-renowned scientists studying bone and tissue regeneration spoke at the Vail Scientific Summit last month to present new research, scientific breakthroughs and medicines that are aiding stem-cell function and tissue regeneration.

Huard believes that the parabiotic pairing between a human mother and fetus during pregnancy rejuvenates women. His research is providing evidence that because a woman's fetus shares cells with its mother, the mother's ability to heal and repair tissue increases.

He also believes there are bone-density benefits that contrast longstanding clinical and scientific studies. It has been thought that pregnancy is a contributing factor to women developing osteoporosis at a greater rate than men (almost one in two women older than 50) because pregnancy and breastfeeding deplete the mother of calcium and other nutrients as her body tries to meet the demands of a growing fetus.

But new research is providing evidence that pregnancy is, in fact, good for overall bone health. During the third trimester, when the fetus places greater demand on the mother's supply of calcium, not only does the mother's ability to produce greater amounts of estrogen (a hormone protecting bones) increase, but her ability to absorb calcium from supplements and food also increases.

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Thus, according to studies from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases and the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, while bone loss may occur during pregnancy, it is typically restored postpartum. If mothers monitor their calcium and hormone levels, they may reduce their risk of lowered bone-mineral density.

Pregnant women can maintain bone density and calcium levels with consumption of supplements, vitamin D and cruciferous greens such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale and watercress.

Although oxytocin is generally associated with its roll in childbirth and enhancing emotional attachment, Huard believes that it also plays a part in healing wounds via its anti-inflammatory properties. Some research indicates that oxytocin may also be a therapeutic agent for treating neuro-inflammatory diseases.

Relaxin, another hormone Huard is studying, is proving to enhance many aspects of wound healing. Relaxin is produced in the ovaries and placenta. It assists in softening the abdominal muscles and rib cage during pregnancy, in addition to relaxing the cervix and ligaments around the pelvis during childbirth.

As Huard's research and understanding of pregnancy and the many rejuvenating processes that occur during and after pregnancy continue, we can be guaranteed that remarkable advances will occur in our understanding of wound healing and tissue regeneration.

That such substantial and transformative research is being conducted in our mountain community and not a national academic think tank is just another reason to love where we live.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. Contact him at 970-328-5526 or visit http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns.