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Are Osteoporosis Drugs Counterproductive?

Q. I was prescribed Fosamax for over six years and then switched to Actonel for the past three years, along with extra calcium. My doctor was concerned that I was at risk for osteoporosis.

Now my bones are brittle. I suffered stress fractures and broke my thigh bone. My doctor wants me to start giving myself Forteo shots. What can you tell me about this drug or other ways to combat osteoporosis?

A. The FDA recently issued a warning about long-term use of drugs like Actonel, Boniva, Fosamax and Reclast. The agency concluded that these drugs don’t offer increased benefits after three to five years of use (New England Journal of Medicine, May 31, 2012).

Swiss researchers have just reported that long-term use of these medications (five years or longer) is linked to atypical femur fractures like the one you experienced (Archives of Internal Medicine, online May, 2012).

Forteo works in a completely different way. Side effects may include joint pain, weakness, nausea and muscle cramps. For more information about Forteo and other treatments, we are sending you our Guide to Osteoporosis.

Many women have been encouraged to take calcium for bone strength, but a new study shows that people who take calcium supplements are at higher risk of heart attacks (Heart, online May 23, 2012).

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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