Osteoporosis is a disease that is characterized by reduced bone mass and brittle bones. It affects millions of women. To combat bone loss, women often turn to bisphosphonates. Around the age of 30, most women’s bones start to deteriorate faster than they can be rebuilt. The claim is that bisphosphonates combat the deterioration, giving bones a chance to repair themselves.
Ironically, in a May 2012 FDA study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, it concluded that taking bisphosphonates for osteoporosis could actually lead to weaker bones if taken over a long period of time. Common bisphosphonate drugs include Fosamax, Boniva and Reclast. Taking these drugs for an extended period could lead to potentially serious side effects such as, femur fractures, esophageal cancer and osteonecrosis of the jaw.
The report showed little to no evidence that there is a benefit to women who have been taking the drugs after 3 to 5 years of use. How doctors prescribe bisphosphonates will likely depend on the amount of bone density that is lost. Women with moderate bone density loss are unlikely to gain any benefits from being on these drugs; however, for women who have documented osteoporosis, the benefits are shown to far outweigh the risk.
For now, the FDA has already placed a warning label on the drugs for patients to follow up with their doctors periodically to discuss the benefits and risks of staying on bisphosphonates for prolonged periods of time.