One of the very first posts we wrote – back in May 2008 – was on the problem of Fosamax and other bisphosphonates causing osteonecrotic lesions in the jaw. These sites of dead and decaying tissue – an ironic result for a class of drugs meant to strengthen bone, no?
As follow-up a little more than a month later, we recommended a article on other problems cropping up with the drugs, including irregular heartbeat and an increased risk of large bone fractures. Further research has confirmed these findings, as well as revealed other problems such as the drugs’ interference with the body’s healing mechanisms in the mouth and increased risk of esophagal cancer.
It’s important to note that while bisphosphonates do increase bone-density, the new bone may not be structurally sound. The drugs turn off the particular type of bone cell responsible for the resorption process that removes old bone. So the new is built on top of old, damaged bone. But no matter, says the medical establishment. The drugs do what we want them to: increase density. Ergo, they’re effective.
Fortunately, more medical professionals are questioning drugs as first-line treatment. Simply, there are better options – safer and more effective. For instance, a major literature review published earlier this year found diet to be better than drugs for treating osteoporosis. According to a University of Illinois media release on the study,
“For many people, prescription bone-building medicines should be a last resort,” said Karen Chapman-Novakofski, a U of I professor of nutrition and co-author of a literature review published in a recent issue of Nutrients.
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“I suspect that many doctors reach for their prescription pads because they believe it’s unlikely that people will change their diets,” she noted.
The scientist said that prescription bone-building medications are expensive, and many have side effects, including ironically an increase in hip fractures and jaw necrosis. They should be used only if diet and supplements don’t do the trick. [emphasis added]
Specifically, the study found that vitamins D and K, as well as calcium are especially helpful for encouraging quality bone growth. Ideally, all of these should come from diet and, in the case of D, exposure to sunlight. Here are some great dietary sources of each nutrient:
- Vitamin D
Fatty fish (e.g., catfish, salmon, sardines, tuna), eggs
- Vitamin K
Leafy greens, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, avocado, kiwifruit, grapes, meat, eggs
Dairy products, seaweeds, nuts and seeds, beans, collard and dandelion greens, broccoli, okra, figs
High quality, food-grade supplements may also be used to enhance your nutritional intake. (Yes, quality matters, for not all nutritional supplements are created equal.) If you choose to use supplements, we strongly recommend you consult with a biological, naturopathic or CAM physician to make sure you take the right dosages for your needs and that the supplements won’t have a bad interaction with any other medications you may be taking, whether over-the-counter, prescription, homeopathic or otherwise.
In addition to more D, K and calcium, the study also found that reduced sodium intake had a positive effect on bone density. So beware of overdoing it on foods that may be high in one of the three key nutrients but also high in salt – things like processed or smoked meats and cheese.
Last, the authors recommend physical activity, which also promotes good bone health.
Chapman-Novakofski…suggests a combination of aerobic, strength, balance, and flexibility exercises with a focus on improving your core muscles so you can catch yourself if you start to fall.
Whatever sort of exercise you’re doing, you have to introduce new forms of activity every so often because your bones will stop responding to the same old routine and rebuilding will slow, she said.
You can read the full study here (PDF).
And for more on the trouble with bone drugs, read this article by Byron Richards, CCN.
Image by wellcome images, via Flickr