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Looking to Piglets for Clues to Obesity, Osteoporosis

Calcium does a body good – perhaps even more than previously thought. And it took a study of piglets to figure it out.

Dr. Chad Stahl, an associate professor of animal science at NC State, presented research recently at the Experimental Biology 2010 meeting showing calcium-deficient piglets with weaker and less dense bones than piglets receiving plenty of calcium. An analysis of certain stem cells showed the calcium-deficient piglets formed fat cells in place of bone-forming cells. Weaker bones and more fat cells could spell osteoporosis and obesity later in life.

How is this relevant to humans? Stahl explains that piglets and humans have bone formation and nutrition in common. In fact, pigs experience bone breaks related to osteoporosis, which is rare in the animal world.

Stahl is now conducting a longer-term feeding trial on pigs to gauge whether the results are borne out through sexual maturity, which for pigs occurs at around eight months of age.