Osteoporosis Drugs May Be Doing Our Bones More Harm Than Good

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).

Bisphosphonates do more harm than good

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, essentially reducing bone loss. 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.

  • In individuals with osteopenia, bisphosphonates increased the risk of hip fracture by 85% and wrist fractures by 50%.2
  • Long term (4-8 years) users of bisphosphonates have significantly higher risks of atypical hip and leg fractures.3 Most of these fractures are not the result of falls. They occur under minimal stress, often merely walking down stairs or low-energy exercise.4
  • 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.5

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.6

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.7

  1. Blume SW, Curtis JR. Medical costs of osteoporosis in the elderly Medicare population. Osteoporos Int. 2010 Dec 17.
  2. Abramson J. Overdosed America. Harper 2004; 215.
  3.  Cermak K, Shumelinsky F, Alexiou J, et al. Case Reports: Subtrochanteric Femoral Stress Fractures after Prolonged Alendronate Therapy. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2009 Dec 18.
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    ABC News: Fosamax: Is Long Term Use of Bone Strengthening Drug Linked to Fractures? http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/OnCall/fosamax-long-term-bone-strengthening-drug-linked-fractures/story?id=10045179
    LA Times: Long-term use of popular osteoporosis drug may harm bone. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/booster_shots/2010/03/bisphosphonates-osteoporosis-medications.html
  5. University of British Columbia (2008, January 15). Popular Osteoporosis Drugs Triple Risk Of Painful Bone Necrosis, Study Finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 24, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com? /releases/2008/01/080115092048.htm
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  7. Rubin C, Turner AS, Muller R, et al. Quantity and quality of trabecular bone in the femur are enhanced by a strongly anabolic, noninvasive mechanical intervention. J Bone Min Res 2002;17:349-357.
    Gianetti, Heather. "Researchers show the 'BEST' way to reduce osteoporosis risk." EurkAlert.org. 2006. http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2006-02/msl-rst020106.php.