Are your medications dangerous to your bone health? While we all know that medications have some side effects, we may not recognize that certain medications, especially used long term, can seriously harm your bones.
Let’s look at the 3 most commonly used classes of medications known to increase fracture risk.
Which medications damage bone?
Corticosteroids. This class of drugs interferes with bone formation while simultaneously stimulating bone resorption, thus accelerating bone loss significantly. At one point, scientists estimated that approximately 20% of all osteoporosis in the U.S. was the result of corticosteroid use, and it is estimated that up to 50% of patients using long-term oral corticosteroids will develop bone fractures.
While short-term, very occasional steroid use has less potential to weaken bone, longer-term use of oral and even inhaled steroids clearly jeopardize bone strength and increase fracture risk. Doses as low as 5 mg a day have been shown to increase fracture risk.
It is wise to seek alternatives to steroid therapy, use them when only truly necessary and for the shortest period of time possible, and to fully support your bone health while using them to help offset the drug’s effects.
- Beclomethasone (inhaled)
- Betamethasone (lotion or cream for skin)
- Budesonide (oral capsule, inhaler and nasal spray)
- Ciclesonide (inhaled)
- Cortisone (oral, injection)
- Dexamethasone (oral)
- Ethamethasoneb (oral, injection)
- Flunisolide (inhaled)
- Fluticasone (inhaled)
- Hydrocortisone (spray, liquid, lotion, gel, cream, ointment)
- Methylprednisolone (oral)
- Mometasone (inhaled)
- Prednisolone (oral)
- Prednisone (oral)
- Triamcinolone (oral, injection
Antacids. Proton pump inhibitors such as esomeprazole (Nexium) and lansoprazole (Prevacid) are commonly used antacids. These antacid drugs powerfully reduce the production of stomach hydrochloric acid and thus likely weakened nutrient absorption. Proton pump inhibitors have been repeatedly documented to increase the risk of hip, wrist, and spine fractures.
H2 receptor antagonist drugs like cimetidine (Tagamet) and ranitidine (Zantac) are also used to suppress acid production, which suggests that they might impair nutrient absorption similarly. However, studies have suggested that they do not seem to increase fracture risk as do proton pump inhibitors. One reason may be that they work by blocking the action of histamine — a chemical released in immune responses. Histamine tends to promote bone resorption. So these drugs are less likely, long term, to promote bone loss. Even so, there are studies showing that bone loss occurs in people taking H2 receptor antagonists if they do not have good intake of specific key bone nutrients, such as calcium and vitamin D.
Antidepressants. A specific class of antidepressant medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) is associated with a significant increase in fracture risk. One study noted that there are some indicators that the medications have direct effects on bone, but they’re not well determined. However, the impact of SSRIs on balance and alertness are well established.
What it boils down to is this: if you take SSRIs, it’s important to look carefully at your bone health. Even in the absence of a direct effect on bones, falling is the primary cause of fracture in those with weakened bones.
I realize that it’s not always possible to avoid these medications, but there often exist dietary and lifestyle changes and alternative medical approaches that go to the root of the disorder and reduce the need for bone-damaging medications. Also, once you know your medication may harm your bones, you can take steps to protect your skeleton. Plus, by knowing what the medications are, you can talk with your practitioner to determine whether there are less bone-damaging alternatives and support your body’s natural healing processes as much as possible.
Halpern MT, Schmier JK, Van Kerkhove MD, et al. Impact of long term inhaled corticosteroid therapy on bone mineral density results of a meta-analysis. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 2004;92:201-207.
Hodgson SF. Corticosteroid-induced osteoporosis. Endocrinol Metab Clin North Am 1990;19: 95-111.
Jones A, Fay JK, Burr M, et al. Inhaled corticosteroid effects on bone metabolism in asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 1, 2006.
Low Dose Steroids Can Increase Fracture Risk. Medsafe, NewZealand Medicines and Medical Devices Safety authority, 2017 http://www.medsafe.govt.nz/Profs/PUarticles/bone.htm
Vestergaard P, Rejnmark L, Mosekilde L. Proton pump inhibitors, histamine H2 receptor antagonists, and other antacid medications and the risk of fracture. Calcif Tissue Int. 2006 Aug;79(2):76-83. Epub 2006 Aug 15.
Warden SJ, Fuchs RK. Do Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) Cause Fractures? Curr Osteoporos Rep. 2016 Oct;14(5):211-8. doi: 10.1007/s11914-016-0322-3.
Wiercigroch M, Folwarczna J. [Histamine in regulation of bone remodeling processes]. Postepy Hig Med Dosw (Online). 2013 Aug 26;67:887-95.
Yu EW, Bauer SR, Bain PA, Bauer DC. Proton pump inhibitors and risk of fractures: a meta-analysis of 11 international studies. Am J Med. 2011 Jun; 124(6): 519-526.doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2011.01.007
Yu EW, Blackwell T, Ensrud KE, Hillier TA, Lane NE, Orwoll E, Bauer DC. Acid-suppressive medications and risk of bone loss and fracture in older adults. Calcif Tissue Int. 2008 Oct;83(4):251-9. doi: 10.1007/s00223-008-9170-1. Epub 2008 Sep 24.
Zhou B, Huang Y, Li H, Sun W, Liu J. Proton-pump inhibitors and risk of fractures: an update meta-analysis. Osteoporos Int. 2016 Jan;27(1):339-347.
I’m Dr. Susan Brown. I am a nutritionist, medical anthropologist, writer, and speaker. Get my free weekly newsletter here.