How big pharma’s best-selling osteoporosis medications are poisoning your bones
Start off the new year right. Ask your doctor about getting off dangerous, counter-productive drugs, or avoid them in the first place. You will find more doctors are starting to agree.
Take statin drugs, for instance. I’ve written before about the irony of these drugs. While they do indeed lower cholesterol, they do it by poisoning your normal metabolism. More research shows they won’t typically protect you against heart disease or reduce mortality. Plus, they have so many side effects that, in the end, they really aren’t beneficial for the vast majority of people and doctors are finally raising serious doubts (as I reported in the Daily Dispatch “Doctors voice growing doubts about blockbuster statin drugs” last month).
Unfortunately, statin drugs aren’t the only widely prescribed medications that have a topsy-turvy risk-benefit ratio.
It turns out that certain osteoporosis drugs suffer from this same kind of problem. Popular bisphosphonate osteoporosis drugs like Fosomax, Boniva, and Actonel do artificially increase bone density. But several large clinical trials show they do not significantly lower the risk of bone fractures over the lifetime of a patient.1 Shouldn’t that be the whole point of these drugs?
In fact, research is beginning to show that women who take bisphosphonate osteoporosis drugs for more than five years can suffer from atypical bone fractures. Meaning their bones break spontaneously, even without a fall or major force being applied.2
That’s certainly ironic, considering the purpose of these drugs is to reduce fractures—not just increase bone density. So we have yet another drug class that does not work as intended. And, once again, there are some very effective natural alternatives that can help keep your bones strong and healthy. More on those in just a moment. But first, let me shed a little more light onto the dark side of osteoporosis drugs.
The hazards of building on a weak foundation
Why are these drugs ineffective? Well, first of all, building and maintaining healthy bone is a complex process. The bones that make up our skeletons don’t just permanently set like concrete. There is constant, living bone “remodeling” based upon cues from the body as to daily stresses and strains, as well as metabolic and nutritional conditions and status.
There are two major types of bone cells at work in our bodies at all times. Osteoclasts remove old or injured bone cells, or bone cells that have lost their blood supply. Then, osteoblasts build new, healthy, strong bone. For healthy bones, you can’t have one without the other.
But osteoporosis drugs work by poisoning a key enzyme in osteoclasts, causing these critical bone cells to die because their main metabolic pathway is disrupted. (And who knows what other metabolic pathways in the body are being poisoned as well?). Does killing normal and necessary cells of any kind sound like a good pathway to health ?
Without osteoclasts to clean up old or injured bone cells, the osteoblasts merrily keep building new bones, but on an unhealthy foundation. This process may result in thick bones, but they are not stronger, healthy bones. Think of it like building a strong new house to code on top of a rotten, crumbling foundation. (That’s the way I often felt building sound new public health programs with U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop during the Reagan administration—I had to work on top of the “foundation” of a permanent, dysfunctional, disinterested, unresponsive, and undermining federal government bureaucracy.)
We all know that big pharma produces some truly heinous drugs, but why would it create another drug that is actually designed to poison you? Well, believe it or not, poisoning is not unheard of in medicine. In fact, in ancient Greece or Rome, one could hire a physician to either help cure or poison a patient. That’s one reason Dr. Koop always reminded us that the Hippocratic Oath of the ancient Greek physicians begins with, “I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked.”
Once upon a time, pharmacology was based on materia medica, or the components of plants that support health and healing (as is still, in fact, the case with modern dietary supplements). But it seems big pharma has taken a turn from pharmacology back to ancient Greek toxicology, as it creates drugs that poison normal cells and normal metabolism in order to bring about intermediate results. Regardless of whether there are any long-lasting health benefits.
As I’ve explained before, statin drugs poison the body’s ability to make cholesterol. Sure, this brings down cholesterol levels. But cholesterol is actually essential for good health. So now we have a bunch of people with lower cholesterol, but without improved overall health or reduced mortality. Now big pharma is poisoning normal bone cells so they can’t do their job to remove old, unhealthy bone. Then the drugs force the body to pile new, thicker bones on top of old, sick bone. But, oops! Turns out that contributes to bone fractures.
Yet both of these metabolic poisons are still on the market. And millions of people are taking them every single day.
What doctors don’t know about bone health can hurt you
It doesn’t take an orthopedic expert (please) to predict that long-term use of common osteoporosis medications will result in poor bone health. A simple look at normal bone metabolism shows the futility and, ultimately, the fraudulence of trying such an approach. But today’s medical students don’t learn much about bones anymore. And, as I noted in my Daily Dispatch e-letter back in August (“Experts call most common orthopedic surgery ‘inappropriate’ or ‘inconclusive’”), specializing in orthopedics doesn’t turn them into geniuses when it comes to the science either.
(See the article “The unnecessary surgery bringing Medicare to its knees” for more reasons to be skeptical about orthopedics.)
These topics (e.g., bones, nutrition, and skeletal nutrition) are simply not taught in medical school.
The one specialty of medicine where students do learn about bones is forensic medicine—including both forensic anthropology and pathology.
As a consulting forensic pathologist, several years ago I had a case of a dentist who, ironically, took an osteoporosis drug and then developed an abscess in his jawbone. Based on the new studies cited in this article, it seems that the drug poisoned his ability to remove old, unhealthy bone, which ultimately led to an infection that created the abscess in his jaw. Dental abscesses are very dangerous because they can penetrate into the brain. The poor dentist went through a medical nightmare for months on end and was never fully restored to normal health.
I and my fellow medical examiners contribute to public health and public safety by being called upon occasionally to examine the bones of the dead. But it would sure be nice if doctors who examined the living knew and understood more about bones.
The good news is, there are a number of natural approaches that can help strengthen bones—without poisoning them or building new bone on top of a dead, crumbling foundation. Of course, again, medical doctors aren’t typically taught about these safe, natural alternatives. In fact, I learned what I know about bones and nutrition while earning my PhD in anthropology.
Natural alternatives to osteoporosis drugs
There are a variety of ways you can support and nourish both types of bone cells—which ultimately produces strong and healthy bones. All without the dangerous side effects of osteoporosis drugs.
Calcium and vitamin K2 are crucial bone nutrients. But you should get them from your diet rather than taking them as supplements.
As I explained in the May issue of Insiders’ Cures, fermented dairy foods like cheese, yogurt, and soy offer more potent and consistent sources of K2 than supplements do. And moderate intake of healthy dairy, eggs, fish, and meat—including some saturated fats—is necessary for adequate calcium levels. (Calcium is one nutrient that really must be obtained from foods. The whole concept of calcium supplementation is problematic in every way.)
You also need trace amounts of boron (5 mg per day) and 150-200 mg a day of magnesium for optimal bone health. Magnesium is vital in helping your body absorb calcium from food. But unlike calcium, it can be taken as a supplement. Some good-quality bone-health supplements contain adequate levels of magnesium and boron.
It’s no surprise at all that vitamin D, which benefits virtually every part of the body, is also important for healthy bones. I recommend 5,000 IU per day of vitamin D for general health. (See more about this essential vitamin on page X.)
Vitamin C (500 mg per day) and vitamin E (50 IU per day) are also important for bone health.
And, of course, regular, light-to-moderate exercise will send the right signals to your bone cells to keep working to remodel and rebuild healthy bone with the natural nutrients you are giving your body.
Healthy bones support healthy joints
If you are troubled by joint pain, it’s important to support the bones underlying the joint cartilage. This provides a healthy foundation while you control the inflammation in the joints. (Inflammation prevents healing and new cartilage formation.)
There are several supplements that can help repair joint cartilage. Certainly, everyone has been talking about tired, old glucosamine and chondroitin for decades. And some natural know-it-alls are still droning on about them. But, as I wrote in the February 2013 issue of Insiders Cures’, these so-called remedies simply don’t work.
What you really need for optimal joint health is a combination approach. The nutrients I described above will help provide the healthy bone foundation your joints need. And there are also three herbal remedies that offer remarkable pain relief by targeting inflammation. Try standard daily doses of 450 mg of boswellia together with 200 mg of turmeric and 500 mg of ashwaganda. You can read more about this effective trio on page X.
Magnesium’s benefits—beyond strong bones
In addition to its role in bone health, magnesium has an important influence on the heart and blood vessels. A large analysis of 22 clinical trials showed that magnesium supplementation resulted in significant reductions in blood pressure.3 And a variety of studies have found that low magnesium levels are associated with insulin resistance and diabetes.
Magnesium may also be helpful for tension headaches—perhaps due to its beneficial effects on muscle tightness and tenderness.4 There is also strong evidence that magnesium can reduce the frequency of migraines. Finally, there is some research showing that magnesium can be helpful for menstrual cramps (probably because of its effects on muscle tissue) and PMS.5
For optimal health, I recommend supplementing with 150-200 mg of magnesium per day. This step is particularly important if you take thiazide diuretics—a common drug for high blood pressure that causes you to lose magnesium through your kidneys.
1 “Continuing Bisphosphonate Treatment for Osteoporosis — For Whom and for How Long?” N Engl J Med 2012; 366:2051-2053
2 “Atypical Femoral Fracture Risk in Patients Treated With Bisphosphonates. Comment on ‘Increasing Occurrence of Atypical Femoral Fractures Associated With Bisphosphonate Use.’” Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(12):936-937.
3 “Effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis.” Eur J Clin Nutr. 2012 Feb 8. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2012.4.
4 “Tension headaches and muscle tension: is there a role for magnesium?” Med Hypotheses. 2001; 57(6): 705-13.
5 “Dysmenorrhea: contemporary perspectives.” Obstet Gynecol Surv. 2008; 63(9): 597-603.