New analysis looks at bone drug risks vs. benefits

Wouldn’t it be valuable if there was one study to answer the important questions about bone drugs, including:

  • How effective are bisphosphonates?
  • How well do they actually work to prevent hip fractures?
  • What’s the possibility of harm from these bone drugs?

Now, there is one — thanks to researchers who conducted a detailed systematic analysis of clinical trials using bisphosphonate drugs to treat osteoporosis and prevent hip fractures.

Benefits vs. risks of bisphosphonates

Here are two striking numbers researchers discovered when looking at how bisphosphonates help or hurt the women who take them:

  • 175 postmenopausal women with bone fragility had to be treated for three years to prevent one single hip fracture.
  • Treating 300 people with bisphosphonate drugs for three years will result in one person being harmed from serious side effects.

What’s more, researchers noted that hip fracture rates in developed countries are declining, yet sales of bisphosphonate drugs tripled between 2001 in 2008 and are forecast to exceed $11 billion in 2015.

Also, while 80 is the average age at hip fracture, the evidence suggests no benefit from bisphosphonate bone drugs for this age group.

“Pharmacotherapy (for hip fracture prevention) can achieve at best a marginal reduction of hip fractures at the cost of unnecessary psychological harms, serious medical adverse events, and forgone opportunities to have greater impacts on the health of older people,” said Dr. Barbara Mintzes, one of the study authors.

I really appreciate that they took into account the psychological impacts of osteoporosis overdiagnosis, which is something I see often in my work.

Listen: The trouble with bisphosphonates

You can listen to Dr. Mintzes detail more about the research findings in the first 13 minutes of this interview that aired on Australian national radio titled “The trouble with bisphosphonates” here.


Jarvinen, T.L., et al, Overdiagnosis of bone fragility in the quest to prevent hip fractures. BMJ 2015;350:h2088, 2015 May 26 (

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