ABC News Warns of Long-Term Use of Osteoporosis Drugs May Lead to Broken Bones

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • As women go through perimenopause and menopause, one of the emerging concerns is how to stop the loss of bone density. Experts are not sure what causes the extreme speed-up of bone breakdown after menopause. What we do know is that by age 65,  approximately 30% of women have developed osteoporosis, while after age 80, 70% of women suffer from this situation.

    There are lots of advertisements for drugs that can help slow bone loss, but the picture that is painted in these ads may not be so rosy. ABC News has broadcast a warning that long-term use (more than five years) of Fosamax or its generic alendronate may lead to bone fractures in the femur bone (the thigh). Based on this news, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will research whether a link exists between the long-term use of certain osteoporosis drugs called bisphosphonates (which include Fosamax, Actonel, Boniva and Reclast) and this type of fracture.

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    These breaks in one of the body’s strongest bones, which are increasingly being seen by doctors, are severe enough to look like an injury received in a car accident instead of from a minimal fall. And many unsuspecting women may be at risk, according to ABC News, since sales of this drug increased when doctors began prescribing it for women who were at risk of osteoporosis as well as those women who already had this malady. The ABC report warns that women suffered this injury noticed discomfort in their thigh bones prior to the bone breaking.

    Merck, the drug company who makes Fosamax, notes that a causal relationship between the drugs and these fractures has not been established. The ABC News report reported that many studies have described an overall benefit from taking the medicine for women who are at risk for osteoporosis. However, Merck did add possible femur fractures to the list of potential side effects reported in the drug’s package insert in 2009.

    To determine if you’re at risk, you should talk to your doctor about taking a bone density test to measure bone mass. HealthCentral notes that the risk factors for osteoporosis include:
    -    Being tall and thin
    -    Being Caucasian
    -    Smoking
    -    Taking thyroid hormone
    -    Being sedentary
    -    Early menopause or surgical menopause

    Another article on the ABC site provides eight tips to protect bones. These tips, which were provided by the National Women’s Health Information Center, a service of the Office on Women’s Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, include:


    Get enough calcium – Although calcium supplements are an option, food-based sources such as dairy products and leafy greens (spinach, collards, kale, Swiss chard, lettuces, rhubarb, mustard and turnip greens, and broccoli) are recommended by nutritionists. Women who are 19-50 need 1,000 mg per day, but women over 50 need 1,200 mg a day.

    Get enough vitamin D – This vitamin helps your body absorb the calcium. You can get vitamin D from dietary sources (fortified milk, fish and eggs) as well as from exposure to sunshine. Dietary supplements are also available. Women ages 19-50 need 200 IU daily while women ages 51-70 need 400 UI.

  • Eat a healthy diet – Since other nutrients (vitamin K, vitamin C, magnesium, zinc and protein) help build strong bones, eating a healthy diet that includes milk, lean meat, fish, green leafy vegetables and oranges is important.

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    Exercise – Activities, whether resistance training or weight-bearing, help put a healthy strain on the skeletal system in order to promote strong bones. Additionally, being active slows bone loss, improves muscle strength, and helps improve balance.

    Stop smoking – Smoking lowers the estrogen level in a woman’s body. This is important since estrogen helps slow bone loss.

    Use alcohol in moderation – Alcohol can make it harder for your body to absorb calcium. So try to limit your drinking to one alcoholic drink per day.

    I would suggest that women who are taking one of these types of drugs should talk to their doctor. Additionally, all women who are nearing perimenopause should be more thoughtful about their life choices. Taking appropriate steps now many help you take more steps in the future.


    UPDATE: FDA Says: No Concrete Evidence Bisphosphonates Linked to Fractures

Published On: March 10, 2010