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Hormonal contraceptive use, bone density and biochemical markers of bone metabolism in British Army recruits


Introduction Hormonal contraceptive use might impair bone health and increase the risk of stress fracture by decreasing endogenous oestrogen production, a central regulator of bone metabolism. This cross-sectional study investigated bone density and biochemical markers of bone metabolism in women taking hormonal contraceptives on entry to basic military training.

Methods Forty-five female British Army recruits had biochemical markers of bone metabolism, areal bone mineral density (aBMD) and tibial speed of sound (tSOS) measured at the start of basic military training. Participants were compared by their method of hormonal contraception: no hormonal contraception (NONE), combined contraceptive pill (CP) or depot-medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA) (20±2.8 years, 1.64±0.63 m, 61.7±6.2 kg).

Results aBMD was not different between groups (p≥0.204), but tSOS was higher in NONE (3%, p=0.014) when compared with DMPA users. Beta C-terminal telopeptide was higher in NONE (45%, p=0.037) and DMPA users (90%, p=0.003) compared with CP users. Procollagen type 1 N-terminal propeptide was higher in DMPA users compared with NONE (43%, p=0.045) and CP users (127%, p=0.001), and higher in NONE compared with CP users (59%, p=0.014). Bone alkaline phosphatase was higher in DMPA users compared with CP users (56%, p=0.044).

Conclusions DMPA use was associated with increased bone turnover and decreased cortical bone integrity of the tibia. Lower cortical bone integrity in DMPA users was possibly mediated by increased intracortical remodelling, but trabecular bone was not affected by contraceptive use.

  • physiology
  • calcium & bone
  • general endocrinology
  • sex steroids & HRT
  • bone diseases

Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request.

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