Were we wrong about osteoporosis treatments? 39



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To get the best out of our lives we know that we have to take care of ourselves. We’ve got to watch what we eat, take the dog round the block, and be proactive about our health.

There are some diseases that are associated with ageing and osteoporosis is one of them. It affects over 1 million people in Australia. Osteoporosis makes bones become brittle leading to a higher risk of breaks than in normal bone and it happens when bones lose minerals, such as calcium.

Older women are at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis because of the rapid decline in oestrogen levels during menopause. When oestrogen levels decrease, bones lose calcium and other minerals at a much faster rate. As a result a bone loss occurs for several years after menopause. Traditionally the treatment and the prevention has been to do weight bearing exercise and take calcium supplements.

But what if we’re wrong about osteoporosis treatments? That’s a question that has been asked by ABC Radio National’s Health Report.

Health Report points to new evidence that pharmaceutical products and supplements widely used to manage osteoporosis have been slammed by two recent studies, with researchers citing industry links as the reason advocacy groups continue to support such treatments.

The program interviewed Associate Professor Andrew Grey, an endocrinologist at the University of Auckland, who says, ‘Neither calcium nor vitamin D nor their combination are safely effective in promoting bone health in older adults.’

In a paper published in the British Medical Journal, Grey and his colleague, Mark Bollard, argue that calcium and vitamin D supplements, which are widely recommended to protect ageing bones against breaking, are ineffective.

‘Calcium by itself—that’s as a tablet supplement—slightly decreases fracture risk, but that benefit is balanced by a number of harms, so that overall there is no net benefit. And vitamin D by itself just doesn’t have any benefit.’

Meanwhile in a separate article also published in the BMJ, Dr Barbara Mintzes from the University of Sydney and her colleagues argue that prescription medications called bisphosphonates widely used to treat osteoporosis are overprescribed. The findings are controversial and have come under fire from several organisations, including Osteoporosis Australia, who describe Mintzes’ claims as ‘sensationalist and not based on fact’.

Combined, the papers question many widely held beliefs about the best way to prevent and manage osteoporosis.

The best way to get up-to-date information that’s relevant to you is to see your family doctor, and you should never stop treatment prescribed by your doctor without first discussing it with them.

Are you on treatment for osteoporosis or taking calcium as a preventative measure? Will this new research make you rethink the way you are dealing with osteoporosis?



Starts at 60 Writers

The Starts at 60 writers team seek out interesting topics and write them especially for you.

  1. Well isn’t that great! I try to be pro active with my health and take preventative measures. Eons ago when Calcium was pedalled as the go for halting osteoporosis I went on it. Then they said it wasn’t absorbed unless it had a specific type of Magnesium with it.
    More recently we had to have D3 as well! So it’s taken them this long to find out it’s not working! Well I’m sure in the meantime all those companies are very grateful for the plug they’ve received! Where does this leave us! Oh! see the GP and he’ll prescribe one of those chemicals that has nasty side effects. I’m afraid I’m a bit cynical,and suspect that Big Pharma is miffed at missing out because of the huge demand for supplement alternative brands. I have had a Dexa scan recently and my bones were declared strong,so I think my Calcium regime has worked,and I suggest before doing anything get a bone test done.

  2. This is bad news for everyone whos been taking Vitamin D and Calcium supplements. At least we know that by being out in the sun for at least 10 mins a day gives us Vitamin D and excercise helps keep our bones strong

    1 REPLY
    • Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to work for everyone.

  3. I have given up on doctors – take a pill (if you’re lucky) – if you’re over 50 they don’t care. Can’t wait until they get that age as well – it’s getting closer ever day.

  4. Although a very interesting read, this is not the first time our Medical Experts have told us what to do to improve our health only to come out years later and tell us they got it wrong, it really is disgraceful that our doctors seem to believe what the big pharmaceutical companies say have been tested and proven before innocent people try to do the right thing only to find out that it was in fact WRONG, I don’t trust everything I hear when it comes to Medicine.

  5. Agree with Catharine . I’ve worked on oil rigs and mines/gas plants, construction projects for 30 odd years. Most of not all were ‘dry’ camps/work places. i.e. no drugs, alcohol, no late nights, no parties, no nipping out for a pizza etc. As well as the great food, I use to drink at least 2 ltrs of milk a day as well as lots of water, because most of my jobs were in the tropics. The last bone density scan I had the nurse looked at the scans and told me ‘sorry Jules looks like there is something wrong with the scans we’ll have to do them again’ After the second scan the Dr came in with the scans and told me I had the bones of a 20 year old and was ‘declared very strong’. She wanted to know what I’d been doing for the past 30 years …… Milk, I said, I’ve drunk Milk every day and lots of it for the past 30 years and no alcohol!! She was stunned!!

  6. I trust my Doctor, very sensible person. I’ll be guided by him.
    Too much conflicting ideas.

  7. I have always had “weak” bones, and had seven separate fractures in the space of just over a year several years back. Although a very active woman who has always worked with heavy weights in the gym, and lots of walking, trekking and cycling outside my vitamin D level was also always low. I am on Actonel once monthly and was prescribed to take vitamin D and calcium to increase bone density. Have had a follow up bone density scan and it was found that after only 18 months of doing this there was already slight improvements in bone density.

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