But Fosamax is not the answer.
According to Merck, their drug Fosamax (which is in a class of drugs called bisphosphonates) is designed to change the way the body breaks down and builds up bone in an effort to help curtail the bone loss associated with osteoporosis.
But recent reports are showing that it does way more than that.
Forms of the drug are taken either once a day, first thing in the morning, or once a week, also first thing in the morning. According to the Fosamax website, it reduces the activity of cells that cause bone loss, decreases the rate of bone loss and increases the amount of bone in most patients.
Something else you might notice on the Fosamax website is that the benefits of the drug take up about a third of the page while the side-effects and precautions take up the balance.
Aside from the fact that you can‘t eat or drink anything for 30 minutes after taking it, you can‘t lie down for 30 minutes either because it can cause severe damage to the esophagus and stomach.
Additional side effects can include severe bone, joint or muscle pain. As well as something called osteonecrosis of the jaw…also known as bone death.
Just to make sure we‘re on the same page here…a drug designed to prevent and reverse bone loss, can actually cause bone death. But I‘m still not done…
According to a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Washington, women using Fosamax are nearly twice as likely to develop an irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation): a condition that can cause palpitations, fainting, fatigue, or congestive heart failure.
It might also interest you to know that osteoporosis diagnoses shot from roughly half a million to about 3.6 million once the class of drugs was introduced in the mid 1990s. It was around that time that Merck also started selling bone density testing equipment…
…hardly a coincidence I‘m sure.
So, do the risks outweigh the benefits? Well that depends on who you ask.
Study leader, Dr. Susan Heckbert, thinks that, although careful judgment is required, the benefits do justify the risks for women at high risk for fractures.
But according to a report written by Dr. Susan M. Ott in the Annals of Internal Medicine, while much of the Fosamax advertising would lead you to believe it‘s a bone-builder, the evidence shows it is actually a bone hardener…and that bones could actually become more brittle with long-term use.
Another study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, further supports this. It notes that six patients using this class of drug had spontaneous fractures that took anywhere from three months to two years to heal during therapy with the drug.
Conversely, in an I-wish-it-was-funnier-than-it-is study, funded and published by Merck, they found that women using the drug for five years or more could expect its effects to last indefinitely. It‘s hard to say if that‘s a good thing or a bad thing.
In the mean time, a new "medical food" recently hit the market called Fosteum. It‘s essentially a soy derivative with zinc and vitamin D and it‘s meant to be taken along with a calcium supplement.
"Medical foods" is new category that allows drug companies to make the claims that supplements can‘t—while still requiring a prescription.
Just how effective is it? Well, there‘s not a ton of information available just yet, but in clinical studies, 85 percent of patients saw increases in bone density (compared to those taking vitamin D and calcium only).
And since all of the ingredients are considered GRAS (generally recognized as safe), at least you don‘t have to worry about your jaw rotting away if you take it.
I‘ll be sure to keep you posted as more information becomes available.