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Warning on Osteoporosis Drugs

According to a report in the January 19 issue of BMJ, pharmaceutical companies exaggerate the benefits of osteoporosis drugs, and downplay the risks of prescribing osteoporosis drugs for women whose bones appear to be slightly weakened (a condition called osteopenia).

The report suggests that pharmaceutical companies are pushing for women with osteopenia to take the same drugs that women with osteoporosis are being prescribed; the problem with this scenario is that women with osteopenia have such a low risk of experiencing fractures that taking osteoporosis drugs would provide almost no benefit.

Study co-author Dr. Pablo Alonso-Coello, a family physician at Hospital Sant-Pau in Barcelona contends that four studies that found benefits to giving osteoporosis drugs to women with osteopenia exaggerated the benefits.

To illustrate how numbers can be manipulated for self-serving purposes, Dr. Alonso-Coello gives the following example:

The absolute risk of a woman with osteoporosis having a fracture in a given year might be 10 percent.

The effect of an osteoporosis drug is to lower that risk by half, so the absolute benefit is a 5 percent reduction.

But in women with pre-osteoporosis (osteopenia), the risk of fracture is very low, say 1 percent a year, so if you lower that by half, you go down to 0.5 percent absolute reduction.

One study cited in Dr. Alonso-Coello's paper claimed a 75 percent relative reduction in risk of fracture. The absolute risk reduction was 0.9 percent, which, from a statistical perspective, means that up to 270 women with pre-osteoporosis would have to take osteoporosis drugs for three years to avoid a single fracture.

Dr. Alonso-Coello's paper concludes: "This move to treat pre-osteoporosis raises serious questions about the benefit-risk relationship for low-risk individuals, and about the costs of medicalizing and potentially medicating an enormous group of healthy people."

If this scenario sounds familiar to you, it's because this theme - trying to create medical standards of practice that would have relatively healthy people take prescription medication - permeates the entire conventional medical industry, courtesy of the pharmaceutical industry. If you're skeptical about the validity of this statement, look for the section on LDL cholesterol guidelines in the following article: How to Find Health Information that You Can Trust.

Consider that osteopenia is thought to affect almost half of older women, and it's clear that the pharmaceutical industry has a lot to gain by promoting osteoporosis drug use by women with osteopenia.

Risks of Taking Osteoporosis Drugs

Dr. Alonso-Coello's study also found that the potentially harmful effects of osteoporosis drugs are regularly downplayed in osteoporosis research circles. For example, a study that involved a re-analysis of data on an osteoporosis drug called raloxifene, a selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM), made no mention of the increased risk for blood clots.

Just this month, researchers at the University of British Columbia and McGill University issued a warning on a class of osteoporosis drugs (bisphosphonates) taken by millions of women around the world that can lead to bone necrosis, a painful and disfiguring condition. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also issued an alert on bisphosphonates, including alendronate and risedronate, warning that these medications can cause severe bone pain.

Natural Ways to Prevent Osteoporosis

Hopefully, this article has convinced you that osteoporosis drugs should not be taken without careful consideration of the many effects that they can have on your physiology.

If you are concerned about osteopenia or osteoporosis, and want to do your best to prevent or address these health challenges through natural means, I hope that you find the following suggestions to be helpful.

1. Be physically active.

No other facet of your life has greater impact on the health of your bones.

If you are physically active, your body will work to make your bones as strong and flexible as possible. If you lead a relatively sedentary lifestyle, your body will not work to produce and maintain strong bones since your lifestyle is not signaling a need for such bones.

2. Eat mineral-rich foods on a regular basis.

Your body needs much more than calcium supplements to build and maintain healthy bones. When you consider that your bones are comprised of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, manganese, zinc, iron, silica, and many other trace minerals, it should be clear that eating mineral-rich foods is far superior to taking calcium-based supplements when it comes to providing comprehensive nourishment for your bones.

Green vegetables and herbs are the healthiest, mineral-rich foods that you can eat. If you want to ensure that you are actually getting the minerals in green vegetables and herbs into your bloodstream to become available to your bones and other organs, chew these plants thoroughly. Thorough chewing helps to ensure that the protective cell walls that surround all plant cells are sufficiently broken to allow your body to have access to the many minerals contained within those cells.

Drinking freshly pressed vegetable juices and well blended green smoothies are other ways of ensuring that you actually get the minerals in green vegetables and herbs into your bloodstream.

Use of high quality super green food powders can also help to provide your bloodstream and bones with a rich supply of minerals.

3. Consider drinking mineral-rich broths on a regular basis.

Broths that are made by simmering bones and a variety of vegetables for an hour or longer are a fantastic source of calcium and other minerals that can be used to keep your bones strong and flexible.

Mineral-rich broths are a chief source of dietary calcium in East Asian countries like Korea, China, and Japan, where many people are unable to fully digest dairy products. These broths take significant time and effort to make on a regular basis, but they are worth the effort of making, as they provide almost instant nourishment to your bones and other organs.

4. Ensure adequate vitamin D status.

Adequate amounts of vitamin D must be present in your body for calcium in your foods to be optimally absorbed and used.

When the weather is warm and sunlight is readily present, the best way to ensure adequate vitamin D status is to expose your skin to sunlight on a regular basis without getting burned. Sunlight acts on cholesterol found in your skin to produce vitamin D. Your body knows to stop producing vitamin D in this fashion when you have built up an adequate level. Keep in mind that use of a sunscreen with an SPF of 8 or higher can prevent sunlight from acting on cholesterol in your skin to produce vitamin D.

When the weather is cool, and sunlight is not readily available, the best way to ensure adequate vitamin D status is to regularly eat one or more foods that are naturally rich in vitamin D. Different varieties of fish like wild salmon and sardines are good food sources of natural vitamin D. High quality cod liver oil is another good food source of natural vitamin D.

5. Eat high quality fats and cholesterol.

Consumption of high quality fats optimizes the absorption of vitamins A and D into your bloodstream. Vitamin A is needed to keep your intestinal lining healthy and readily able to absorb minerals in the foods that you eat. For these reasons, it's virtually impossible to have optimally healthy bones and teeth without including healthy fats in your diet.

Here are some examples of foods that are rich in healthy fats:

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Avocados
  • Organic eggs from cage-free birds
  • Soaked nuts and seeds (about a handful per day at most)
  • Cold-water fish and high quality fish oils
  • Coconuts and coconut oil
  • Bone broths
  • Organically raised red and white meats (should be eaten sparingly if eaten at all - with proper planning, there is no physiological requirement for red and white meats)

Healthy cholesterol is also needed for a healthy intestinal lining that is able to optimally absorb minerals into your bloodstream. Healthy dietary cholesterol can help to ensure adequate cholesterol status in your system so that sunlight has enough cholesterol to act on to produce vitamin D. While your body is capable of producing cholesterol from other nutrients, it makes sense to ensure adequate cholesterol levels via intake of healthy cholesterol.

6. Learn how to effectively manage emotional stress.

Chronic emotional stress can elevate the level of cortisol in your blood. Cortisol is useful for combating stress, but if it remains elevated in your system over the long term, it can cause the matrix of your bones to weaken. Corticosteroid drugs can also weaken your bones and cause osteoporosis if used in large quantities and/or over the long term.

7. Avoid regular consumption of foods that may cause your bones to lose calcium.

Acid-forming foods are foods that bring the pH of your blood down. You cannot survive if the pH of your blood moves outside a very narrow range (7.35 to 7.45), so your body must buffer the effects of acid-forming foods to maintain a healthy blood pH level. One of the main ways in which your body buffers acid-forming foods is to take calcium from your bones and use it to neutralize the remnants of acid-forming foods. If your body is repeatedly forced to do this, your bones may be weakened.

Foods that are strongly acid-forming in your blood and should not be staples in your diet include:

  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Soft drinks (pop)
  • Sugar
  • Cookies, cakes, and pastries made with white flour
  • Table salt
  • Alcohol

8. Regularly eat foods that are rich in vitamin C.

Collagen is a long, fibrous protein that is critical to providing your bones with tensile strength. In short, the more quality collagen that you have in your bones, the more physical stress that your bones can tolerate before breaking.

Your body needs vitamin C to synthesize collagen. Please note that there is a big difference between the full vitamin C complex found in real foods and synthetic forms of vitamin C found in many nutritional supplements. Some excellent food sources of real vitamin C are:

For more comprehensive information on how to prevent osteoporosis through natural means, including information on the anatomy and physiology of your bones, view:

How to Prevent Osteoporosis


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