There are some drugs — a lot of them, actually — that I really can’t believe people still take. And easily one of the top on that list is a class of drugs called bisphosphonates — so-called “bone drugs” like Fosamax, Actonel, or Boniva that women (and some men) still pop like candy.
This, despite the jaw-dropping (or should I say, jaw-breaking) risks associated with their use. Risks that I’ve been warning my patients and readers about since bisphosphonates hit the market.
As you might recall from my June 2012 newsletter, it wasn’t long after their introduction when we learned they cause your jaw to disintegrate. It’s called osteonecrosis of the jaw — and yes, it’s a potential adverse effect of bisphosphonate use. (Subscribers can access my newsletter archives by logging in to www.DrPescatore.com with their username and password. Not yet a subscriber? Now’s the perfect time).
If a crumbling jaw isn’t enough to convince you or your doctor to try another course of action in pursuit of stronger bones, perhaps this new study will.
This study appeared in a recent online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And in it, researchers from Cornell University conclude that long-term bisphosphonate treatment chips away at bone’s natural fracture resistance.
This risk sets in after just three to five years of treatment — hardly a long haul by Big Pharma’s standards. And it paves the way to something called an atypical femoral fracture (AFF). That is, a fracture of the femur bone — but one that can occur with little, or even NO trauma to the leg. It just… happens.
If you’re horrified, well, you should be. Especially since this isn’t the first study to reach this conclusion.
This latest study compared bone biopsies from two sets of patients. One group was taking bisphosphonates and had developed an AFF. The other had suffered typical osteoporosis-related fractures, with or without bisphosphonate treatment.
Results showed that, among women taking the bone drugs, those patients with an AFF had harder and more mineralized bone than women who suffered typical osteoporotic fractures. Not exactly surprising when you consider that bisphosphonates slow the resorption of old bone.
This may increase mineralization and — technically — make bones harder over the short term. But it also interferes with normal bone remodeling processes. Which, counterproductively, makes bones more brittle in the long haul.
That’s how you wind up with atypical fractures… not to mention lowered “crack deflection” ability (the mechanism bones use to keep microscopic cracks from becoming full-fledged fractures — which, it so happens, bisphosphonate treatment also impedes).
Honestly, how these drugs remain on the market is completely beyond me. Granted, these side effects are rare. (The estimated risk for patients taking bisphosphonates is between 1 and 10 in 10,000.) But the FDA yanked ephedra — a harmless herb, when used appropriately — off the market for less side effects.
Meanwhile, this same agency has merely set “recommendations” for these deadly bone drugs — advising that doctors simply reassess their patients for risk factors after three to five years of use.
It’s outrageous. If this were a supplement we were talking about, people would be shouting from the rooftops to have it banned. Even the authors of the study — the very people divulging the dirty details of this horror show — make it clear that they aren’t calling for biphosphonates’ removal from the market.
Now why do you think that is?
Let’s just say that Big Pharma has emerged from bigger scandals and lived to see another day of drug peddling. And they didn’t manage it without a whole lot of help. (Which, no doubt, they paid handsomely for, one way or the other.)
But there is some good news here. Between 2008 and 2012, the number of patients taking biphosphonates dropped by half on account of increasing patient anxieties.
Hopefully, this convinces the other 50 percent to pass on bone drugs, too.
Because the fact is, you just don’t need them. Not when there are so many affordable supplements that can help to preserve bone density — like vitamin D3, vitamin K2, strontium, calcium, and magnesium, to name a few.
Needless to say, I’ve covered this topic exhaustively over the years. So please, browse my archives before you fill that Boniva prescription. It could save you from making a lethal mistake.