Osteoporosis medication extends life by five years

Los Angeles Times

Osteoporosis medications called bisphosphonates are known to reduce the risk of bone fractures. But they also appear to extend life -- although researchers don’t yet know how they do this.

In a study of 362 people released Wednesday, Australian scientists found that people taking bisphosphonates -- which include the medications Fosamax, Boniva and Actonel -- gain an extra five years of life compared with people with osteoporosis who were taking other forms of therapy for the illness -- such as calcium, vitamin D or hormone therapy -- and those taking no therapy.

The death rate for women taking bisphosphonates was 0.8% per 100 person-years, compared with 1.2% for women taking hormone therapy, 3.2% for women taking calcium and vitamin D and 3.5% for women taking no treatment. In men, bisphosphonates also lowered the death rate compared with other therapies.


“In a group of women with osteoporotic fractures over the age of 75, you would expect 50% to die over a period of five years,” a coauthor of the study, Jacqueline Center of Sydney’s Gravan Institute of Medical Research, said in a news release. “Among women in that age group who took bisphosphonates, the death rate dropped to 10%.”

It’s not clear what accounts for this benefit. It could be that people taking bisphosphonates are generally healthier or get better overall healthcare. But the researchers suggest that the link is tied to physiology. When people age and lose bone, heavy metals, like lead and cadmium, which are stored in bone over a lifetime are released into the bloodstream and can affect health. Preventing bone loss may prevent the release of these toxic substances and the damage they do.

Bisphosphonates do produce side effects such as heartburn, however. In a small number of people, the medications cause bone-healing problems after dental surgery.

The study appears online in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.


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