How big is the bang from osteoporosis drugs?

Answering the question “how big is the bang from osteoporosis drugs?” can be quite challenging.

One reason is that the statistical calculations are complex and highly manipulated making them difficult to understand. Another is that the subjects included in the drug studies are generally highly-selected and may not represent “real-world” populations.

Separating hype from reality

Recently scientists took an important step to help us separate hype from reality in regard to the benefits of bone drugs.

Researchers asked if “real-world” patients taking bone drugs received the same fracture-reduction benefits seen in the clinical trials. After analysis of hundreds of studies, they found that highly compliant, “real world” patients on osteoporosis drugs experienced a 21% reduction in all clinical fractures. This compares to the 24% overall clinical fracture reduction experienced by subjects in osteoporosis drug clinical trials.

What a different messages than we often hear — such as how bone drugs reduce your chance of fracture by 50%! Or have you ever been told that the fracture reduction on bone drugs is really more like 21-24%? That is — if you use the drug faithfully.

Now compare this

Now compare this 21-24% fracture-reduction benefit from bone drugs to the studies documenting that those taking vitamin D in any dose (much less a therapeutic dose) experience a 23-26% reduction in fractures. It seems to me that the bang from osteoporosis drugs isn’t quite as big as we’ve been led to believe.

As your bone health advocate, I congratulate these researchers on the enormous effort to analyze and synthesize data from hundreds of studies. I also congratulate the drug company which funded this study for clarifying the real fracture/reduction benefit of today’s bone drugs.



Wilkes, et al. 2010. “Bisphosphonates and osteoporotic fractures: a cross-design synthesis of results among compliant/persistent postmenopausal women in clinical practice versus randomized controlled trials.” Osteoporosis International 21:679-688

Bischoff-Ferrari, HA et al. 2005. Fracture prevention with vitamin D supplementation: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. JAMA, 293(18): 2257-2264



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