How Conventional Osteoporosis Treatments Fall Short
Osteoporosis or “porous bone” is a condition of the skeletal system characterized by low bone mass and deterioration of bone tissue. Osteoporosis leads to an increase risk of bone fractures typically in the wrist, hip, and spine. It’s estimated that 20% of people with osteoporosis who sustain a hip fracture die within one year, and 20% of those who survive end up in nursing homes.
And the risk of dying after a fracture is still elevated for five years. The Canadian Medical Association Journal’s results of the largest study to date on the risk dying after breaking a bone is frightening. They studied nearly 10,000 people across Canada over five years. Women and men 50 and older with osteoporosis who experienced a vertebral fracture were 270% more likely to die than those without fractures. And those with a hip fracture were 320% more likely to die. Additionally, the researchers observed that hip fractures “may have long-lasting effects that result in eventual death by signaling or actually inducing a progressive decline in health.” These findings add to at least six other studies that all confirm the same thing: breaking a hip or vertebrae increases your risk of dying.
Osteoporotic bone fractures can also cause chronic debilitating pain and loss of mobility. The goal then should be to prevent osteoporosis from occurring in the first place. The FDA has approved the health claim on calcium dietary supplements that calcium can “reduce osteoporosis risk.”
Bone Density Scans and Fracture Risk
Osteoporosis treatment and osteopenia treatment focus on increasing the amount of minerals in bone, called bone mineral density. That is why doctors prescribe osteoporosis medications and also frequently recommend a calcium supplement. Osteoporosis is diagnosed by a bone density scan, also called a DEXA scan. A DEXA scan gives you a T-score. A T-score of -1.0 to -2.5 is osteopenia (pre-osteoporosis). A T-score of less than -2.5 is osteoporosis.
However, since 1996 it has been documented that bone mineral density (BMD) predicts less than half the risk for hip fracture. In fact, only a bone density scan only predicts 44% of elderly (> 65 years old) women who eventually get a fracture and only 21% of elderly men who experience a bone fracture.
The problem with a bone loss treatment that just focuses on minerals is that it ignores the other vital component required for bone health and building bones; namely, collagen. Bone is a complex, living tissue that interacts with all other systems in the body. It continually rebuilds and remodels itself using two primary cells called osteoblasts and osteoclasts. The osteoblasts produce new bone while osteoclasts break down and recycles old bone. Building bones requires the proper functioning of both of these cell types.
Benefits and Risks of Bone Medications
The most commonly prescribed osteoporosis treatment and osteopenia treatment medications are a class of drugs called bisphosphonates. These include Fosamax, Boniva and Actonel.
The bisphosphonate category of medications reduce vertebral fractures an average of about 49%. While this is good, it’s important to note that vertebral fractures are not the most dangerous type of fracture. Hip fractures are.
Unfortunately, the medications aren’t very good at reducing hip fracture risk. A series of 2008 articles that reviewed the published studies that included more than 27,000 patients concluded that taking alendronate (Fosamax) risedronate (Actonel) or etidronate (Didronel) does not reduce hip fracture risk in people who had not previously suffered a hip fracture. And in the cases of Actonel and Didronel, they did not prevent a first vertebral fracture either.
Many people also can’t take these medications because of their side effects, which include esophageal bleeding, stomach ulcers, jaw bone death (osteonecrosis of the jaw), vomiting, bone pain, headaches, abdominal pain, nausea, constipation, acid reflux. In fact, an article in the Journal of the American Dental Association concluded that four percent of people taking these osteoporosis medications may be at risk for jaw bone death when they have just a simple procedure like a tooth extraction. What these medications all do is to promote bone health by increasing the minerals. They do not build bones by promoting connective tissue growth.
Questions are emerging also as to the long-term safety of these osteoporosis treatment medications. More than fifty percent of the side effects of all medications are not detected until after the drug is already on the market. Additionally, osteoporosis treatment medications were not studied for longer than five years, as is true for most medications. Several studies have been published recently and concluded that people taking Fosamax for more than five years may actually increase their fracture risk. That’s because while the minerals are increasing bone quantity they are not improving bone quality overall. The result may be more brittle bones than before, just as if your bones were columns of chalk.
Browner WS, Pressman AR, Nevitt MC, Cummings SR. Mortality following fractures in older women. The study of osteoporotic fractures. Arch Intern Med. 1996;156(14):1521-1525. [Article]
Cauley JA, Thompson DE, Ensrud KC, Scott JC, Black D. Risk of mortality following clinical fractures. Osteoporos Int. 2000;11(7):556-561. [Article]
Chrischilles EA, Butler CD, Davis CS, Wallace RB. A model of lifetime osteoporosis impact. Arch Intern Med. 1991;151(10):2026-2032. [Article]
Cumming RG, Nevitt MC, Cummings SR. Epidemiology of hip fractures. Epidemiol Rev. 1997;19(2):244-257. [Article]
Czerwinski E, Badurski JE, Marcinowska-Suchowierska E, Osieleniec J. Current understanding of osteoporosis according to the position of the World Health Organization (WHO) and International Osteoporosis Foundation. Ortop Traumatol Rehabil. 2007;9(4):337-356. [Article]
Wells GA, Cranney A, Peterson J, et al. Alendronate for the primary and secondary prevention of osteoporosis fractures in postmenopausal women. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2008(1). [Article]
Hampton T. Experts Urge Early Investment in Bone Health. JAMA. 2004;291(7):811-812. [Article]
Ioannidis G, Papaioannou A, Hopman WM, et al. Relation between fractures and mortality: results from the Canadian Multicentre Osteoporosis Study. CMAJ. 2009:cmaj.081720. [Article]
Ismail AA, O’Neill TW, Cooper C, et al. Mortality associated with vertebral deformity in men and women: results from the European Prospective Osteoporosis Study (EPOS). Osteoporos Int. 1998;8(3):291-297. [Article]
Kado DM, Duong T, Stone KL, et al. Incident vertebral fractures and mortality in older women: a prospective study. Osteoporos Int. 2003;14(7):589-594. [Article]
Leibson CL, Tosteson AN, Gabriel SE, Ransom JE, Melton LJ. Mortality, disability, and nursing home use for persons with and without hip fracture: a population-based study. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2002;50(10):1644-1650. [Article]
Liu H, Paige NM, Goldzweig CL. Screening for Osteoporosis in Men: A Systematic Review for an American College of Physicians Guideline. Ann Intern Med. 2008;148(9):685-701. [Article]
Looker AC, Orwoll ES, Johnston CC. Prevalence of Low Femoral Bone Density in Older U.S. Adults from NHANES III. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research. 1997;12(11):1761-1768. [Article]
Marshall D, Johnell O, Wedel H. Meta-analysis of how well measures of bone mineral density predict occurrence of osteoporotic fractures. BMJ. 1996;312(7041):1254-1259. [Article]
Neviaser AS, Lane JM, Lenart BA, Edobor-Osula F, Lorich DG. Low-energy femoral shaft fractures associated with alendronate use. J Orthop Trauma. 2008;22(5):346-350. [Article]
Odvina CV, Zerwekh JE, Rao DS, Maalouf N, Gottschalk FA, Pak CYC. Severely Suppressed Bone Turnover: A Potential Complication of Alendronate Therapy. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2005;90(3):1294-1301. [Article]
Robbins JA, Biggs ML, Cauley J. Adjusted mortality after hip fracture: From the cardiovascular health study. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2006;54(12):1885-1891. [Article]
Ruggiero SL, Drew SJ. Osteonecrosis of the Jaws and Bisphosphonate Therapy. Journal of Dental Research. 2007;86(11):1013-1021. [Article]
Sarkar S, Reginster J-Y, Crans GG, Diez-Perez A, Pinette KV, Delmas PD. Relationship Between Changes in Biochemical Markers of Bone Turnover and BMD to Predict Vertebral Fracture Risk. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research. 2004;19(3):394-401. [Article]
Wells G, Cranney A, Peterson J, et al. Risedronate for the primary and secondary prevention of osteoporotic fractures in postmenopausal women. Cochrane database of systematic reviews. 2008(1):CD004523. [Article]
Wells GA, Cranney A, Peterson J, et al. Etidronate for the primary and secondary prevention of osteoporotic fractures in postmenopausal women. Cochrane database of systematic reviews. 2008(1):CD003376. [Article]
People are frazzled, overwhelmed, and stressed. According to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey for 2020, “We are facing a national mental health crisis that could yield serious health and social consequences for years to come. One overlooked effect of stress is the damaging impact it has on collagen—the molecule responsible for providing strength, support, and integrity to tissues and organs throughout the body.
Article at-a-glance: Nearly half of Americans used at least one prescription drug in the last 30 days, and three-quarters of visits to the doctor include discussion and prescription of medications. One serious hidden risk of a wide range of medication is osteoporosis...
Article at-a-glance: Americans experience more than two million side effects from drugs every year, and more than 100,000 people are killed from properly prescribed medications. Deaths from medications are now the 4th leading cause of death. To combat this risk and...