Scared to Take Osteoporosis Drugs?

Medically Reviewed

Q. I have osteoporosis but I don’t want to go on bisphosphonates because of their side effects. Can I just take calcium and vitamin D instead?

A. Unfortunately, no. If you have osteoporosis, supplements by themselves are not going to help you preserve your bone mass and prevent fractures; only prescription medications can do that.

Still, you are not alone in your desire to avoid prescription medications. An internet-based survey of 1,407 postmenopausal women with osteoporosis found that use of over-the-counter vitamins and supplements was the number one reason mentioned by 58 percent, for refusing osteoporosis drugs. A fear of potential side effects was the second most commonly reported reason, cited by 44 percent of the respondents. Among people who had tried prescription treatment, 30 percent had concerns about long-term safety and 30 percent had experienced side effects. Side effects were also associated with a lack of willingness to resume prescription therapy after stopping. Survey results were published in the Archives of Osteoporosis in April 2016.

As always, the smartest strategy is to talk with your healthcare providers and get their expert advice. That way, you can develop a plan of action together to minimize the side effects and maximize the benefits of prescription and nonprescription therapies while protecting your bone health and alleviating your concerns.

Learn more about osteoporosis-related fractures and calcium and vitamin D.