The makers of Fosamax are touting the benefits of this osteoporosis drug again. A new study says Fosamax is nearly twice as effective as its competitor Actonel. But here's the fine print you're not going to see in the newspaper or on TV:
First, the increases were very small. Women taking Fosamax had a 4.6% increase in bone density; Actonel improved bone density by only 2.5%. Those numbers are within the 3-5% margin of error for any study. So it's hard to say that the drugs really do much of anything.
And if they did, is that a good thing?
Increasing bone density isn't as important as the drug companies want you to believe. All of us lose some bone density as we age. But not all of us break any bones.
That's because flexible bones don't break – even if they're not as dense as they once were. And remember, bisphosphonates may increase bone density, but there are no studies to suggest that they increase bone flexibility.
Second, I question the benefits of bisphosphonates entirely. There's some evidence that the drugs cause bone cells to die in other parts of the body. In fact, in the August issue of Women's Health Letter, I tell my readers that Fosamax causes a serious loss of bone in the jaws of some people. It's so serious that it's causing major dental problems and infections in some women.
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You don't need all these problems to protect your bones. There are many other ways to preserve your bone density and flexibility. These include diet, bone-stressing exercise, not smoking, stress reduction, and various supplements. The most valuable nutritional supplements I've found to build strong, flexible bones are magnesium, boron, and strontium. (Notice this list doesn't include large quantities of calcium. Too much calcium can result in brittle bones.)
You can read more about these solutions and all the osteoporosis drugs in past issues of my Women's Health Letter newsletter. Back issues are on my website and are available free of charge to all subscribers. If you're not yet a subscriber, you can sign up at http://www.womenshealthletter.com.
Your voice of reason in Women's Health,
Dr. Janet Zand
Bonnic, S., et al. "Comparison of weekly treatment of postmenopausal osteoporosis with alendronate versus risedronate over two years," J Clin Endocrinol Metab, July 2006.
Lanza, F.L., et al. "Endoscopic comparison of esophageal and gastroduodenal effects of risedronate and alendronate in postmenopausal women," Gastroenterology, September 2000.