Prescription Bone Strengtheners – More Harm than Good?

Bisphosphonates are one of the most widely prescribed FDA-approved drugs for the treatment and prevention of osteoporosis, a common disease in women over the age of menopause. However, various studies on those who have taken these drugs (commonly prescribed as Fosamax, Actonel, Didronel, Boniva and Reclast) are finding that, far from preventing stress fractures, they may actually be the cause of them, over time.

How Bone Strengtheners Work

Bisphosphonates work by mimicking the effects of estrogen on bone density. They actually inhibit bone resorption which is when old bone is removed by the body to make way for new bone growth, thereby slowing the loss of bone mineral density. Although these drugs work to make bones stronger they actually block the natural bone mineralization process which binds calcium to bone tissue.

Initial tests on bone strengtheners showed that the drugs increased bone mineral density and reduced the risk of vertebral, hip and non-vertebral fractures in women diagnosed with osteoporosis. However, over time the drugs are being found to inhibit osteoblastic bone formation. This is when the body naturally fills in small pits and microcracks in bone structure - a little like road repair maintenance.

The unnatural result after several years is that some women on bisphosphonates are suffering from non-spinal fractures while performing normal activities such as standing up, walking or turning around. Worse, despite receiving intensive treatment, their fractures are taking months or even years longer than normal to heal. In most cases, once the drug treatment was discontinued, their fractures healed satisfactorily.

The conclusion of studies is leading doctors to conclude that while prescription bone strengtheners increase bone strength, they reduce bone toughness (the ability to endure bending without breaking) by up to 20%. Rather than the bisphosphonates being bone builders, they are actually acting as bone hardeners.

Dr Ott, writing for the Journal of Endocrinolgy and Metabolism, suggests that these medications should be stopped after five years. Not only do they appear to increase fractures after that period of time, they also damage the upper gastrointestinal tract causing ulcers. Severe local irritation can be caused if the drugs not taken exactly as prescribed, swallowed with a full glass of water 30 minutes before any other food, drink or medication is consumed. Recipients should not lie down until 30 minutes after the first meal of the day has been eaten.

Secondly, bisphosphonates have been found to cause "jaw death" when the bone tissue in the jaw fails to heal after minor surgery, such as a tooth extraction. Finally, those taking Fosamax or Reclast have double the risk of developing atrial fibrillation which, if left untreated, can lead to congestive heart failure or a stroke.

Nature's Answer to Stronger Bones

Some doctors now believe that a regimen of nutritional supplements such as calcium with vitamin D to aid absorption may be the most effective way to maintain and support healthy bones. Regular exercise is also known to keep bones strong and healthy, in combination with a calcium-rich diet and a healthy lifestyle.

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