Osteoporosis Drugs May Be Doing Our Bones More Harm Than Good

May 11, 2017 by Joel Fuhrman, MD

The cost of osteoporosis in the U.S. is estimated at $22 billion per year.1 Bisphosphonates (such as Fosamax, Boniva, Actonel, and Reclast) are commonly prescribed by physicians to treat osteoporosis or to prevent osteoporosis in individuals with osteopenia. Unfortunately, bisphosphonates may actually increase one’s risk of mid-femur fractures (the femur is your upper leg bone).2-11 Bone tissue undergoes a continuous cycle of breaking down old bone and rebuilding new stronger bone. Bisphosphonates increase bone mineral density in the short term by reducing bone breakdown and turnover, reducing bone loss but not building new bone. However, this is not the same as building natural, healthy bone with exercise. When old bone is not broken down to create new bone, the old bone becomes brittle and fractures easily.

Bisphosphonates do more harm than good

  • In individuals with osteopenia (low bone density but not osteoporosis) who took a bisphosphonate for four years, these drugs did not decrease the risk of fractures.12
  • Long term (4-8 years) users of bisphosphonates have significantly higher risks of atypical hip and leg fractures. Most of these fractures are not the result of falls. They occur under minimal stress, often merely walking down stairs or low-energy exercise.2-11
  • An 8-year study of over 88,000 people found that taking bisphosphonates tripled the risk of developing bone necrosis. This means that bisphosphonates caused permanent loss of blood supply to bone, resulting in tissue death.13

The side effects of Bisphosphonates

Bisphosphonates have been linked with many other side effects, including esophagitis, esophageal cancer, osteonecrosis of the jaw, and atrial fibrillation. They can also negatively affect the musculoskeletal system, gastrointestinal tract, and kidney function.11,14,15

Exercise and nutrition for prevention and treatment

Prevention and treatment of osteoporosis does not need to involve potentially dangerous drugs. Instead, osteoporosis should be prevented and treated through physical exercise and proper nutrition, which have been shown to be more effective than drugs and have no negative side effects.16-19

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  3. Capeci CM, Tejwani NC. Bilateral low-energy simultaneous or sequential femoral fractures in patients on long-term alendronate therapy. J Bone Joint Surg Am 2009, 91:2556-2561.
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  13. Etminan M, Aminzadeh K, Matthew IR, Brophy JM. Use of oral bisphosphonates and the risk of aseptic osteonecrosis: a nested case-control study. J Rheumatol 2008, 35:691-695.
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  15. Sellmeyer DE. Atypical fractures as a potential complication of long-term bisphosphonate therapy. JAMA 2010, 304:1480-1484.
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  17. Sacco SM, Horcajada MN, Offord E. Phytonutrients for bone health during ageing. Br J Clin Pharmacol 2013, 75:697-707.
  18. Cashman KD. Diet, nutrition, and bone health. J Nutr 2007, 137:2507S-2512S.
  19. Nieves JW. Osteoporosis: the role of micronutrients. Am J Clin Nutr 2005, 81:1232S-1239S.

Joel Fuhrman, M.D. is a board-certified family physician, seven-time New York Times bestselling author and internationally recognized expert on nutrition and natural healing, who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional methods. Dr. Fuhrman coined the term “Nutritarian” to describe his longevity-promoting, nutrient dense, plant-rich eating style.
For over 30 years, Dr. Fuhrman has shown that it is possible to achieve sustainable weight loss and reverse heart disease, diabetes and many other illnesses using smart nutrition. In his medical practice, and through his books and PBS television specials, he continues to bring this life-saving message to hundreds of thousands of people around the world.