Osteoporosis Drugs Don’t Always Make Strong Bones

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Filed Under: Bone & Joint Health
Last Reviewed 03/28/2014

If you have osteoporosis, it’s likely that your doctor has talked to you about Fosamax, Actonel, Boniva or another bisphosphonate drug. These medications, which rake in $8 billion annually in worldwide sales, are prescribed to prevent fractures. But they too often make bone health worse.

Osteoporosis Drugs Don’t Always Make Strong Bones Bisphosphonates have long been linked with degeneration of the jawbone, and the FDA issued a warning that extended use is associated with “atypical” fractures of the thigh bone. In the same breath, however, the agency told consumers to “keep taking your medication unless you are told to stop by your health-care professional.” (Translation: “Never think for yourself. Doctor knows best.”)

This is bad advice. In addition to causing the very problems they’re prescribed to prevent, bisphosphonates aren’t very effective. Your doctor may tell you that they make strong bones by reducing the risk of fracture by 50 percent, but when you dig down into the statistics they’re really only preventing one fracture in 100. The other 99? They’d be better off—a lot better off—taking a placebo.

Fractures are serious business, but you can reduce your risk naturally.

Naturally Promote Strong Bones

  • Calcium (1,500 mg daily) can slow the rate of bone loss by 30 percent to 50 percent and offer significant protection against hip fractures. Some of the best-absorbed types of supplemental calcium for strong bones are calcium citrate, ascorbate, gluconate and malate. For proper absorption and metabolism, calcium should be balanced with magnesium in a 2:1 or 1:1 ratio.

  • Vitamin D (5,000 IU daily) helps control calcium balance in the body and facilitates calcium absorption from the intestines into the bone. As we age, vitamin D levels in the blood decrease, especially among women, so supplementing is critical. I recommend that you start with 5,000 IU every day for three months, have your vitamin D blood level tested, and increase or reduce your dose to keep your level in the target range of 50–80 ng/mL for bone health. 

  • Vitamin K (300 mcg) helps attract calcium to bone tissue.

  • Strontium (680 mg of elemental strontium, taken at least two hours before or after eating or taking other supplements) doesn’t simply stop bone loss, but actually increases bone density, promoting strong bones and preventing osteoporosis.

  • Weight-bearing exercise has been shown to increase bone mass by five percent to 10 percent, even in those with low bone mass to begin with. That’s because it stimulates the rebuilding of bone cells. The best exercises for maintaining strong bones are those that strengthen muscle against gravity, such as dancing, walking, and mild weight lifting. Try to add two weekly strength-training sessions to your regimen.  

Now it’s your turn: What do you do to keep your bones strong?

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