When it comes to deciding whether or not to take a drug for your bones, we recommend you take a closer look at both the risks and benefits to determine if taking them is really worth it for you. Unfortunately, as with so many drugs that seemed to be wonderful treatments when they were first introduced, the evidence about dangerous side effects of some bone drugs, along with limited benefits, continues to grow. We think it’s important you know the whole story so that you can make a more informed decision about what is really right for you.

The truth about bisphosphonates

One of the most popular forms of prescription bone medication — bisphosphonates (known as Fosamax, Actonel, or Boniva) — aren’t actually as effective as many claim when it comes to preventing osteoporosis and fracture. The pharmaceutical companies tell us that bisphosphonates halt the bone breakdown process and make bones denser, which will keep them from breaking. And sometimes, women do see dramatic differences in bone mineral density tests after a year of taking these drugs.

However, after that, studies indicate these benefits of bisphosphonates may be only temporary. After taking a bisphosphonate for a year or so, the markers for two important factors — bone growth and the clearing out of old bone — both drop dramatically. Because the natural bone repair process is being inhibited by the drugs, it’s highly likely that long-term use will actually weaken bone. Some research even suggests increased rates of certain types of fracture with prolonged use.

In addition, the use of bone drugs shows dangerous side effects, including fractures of the femur, skin rashes, pain in joints, bones and muscles, and even irregular heartbeat.

Follow the Surgeon General’s advice when it comes to bone health

While bone naturally becomes less dense as we age, we’re protected from debilitating fracture by our bones’ inborn ability to repair, meaning to break down old bone and rebuild new bone naturally as part of a cycle. Women who decide that the risks of bone drugs aren’t worth it still have a powerful option to build bone strength and prevent fractures — the natural approach.

We suggest you follow the Surgeon General’s advice when it comes to the best approach to increase bone health and reduce the risk of osteoporosis and fracture:

1. The first step should include nutrition, physical activity and fall prevention.

2. The second step is to look for the underlying causes

3. The final step, or last resort, is to use bone drugs.

Sadly, what women often hear first is a recommendation to jump right to the top of the pyramid. We see that many conventional practitioners are just as confused about the risks and benefits of bone drugs as are the women to whom they are prescribing!

You have choices about bone health

When deciding whether or not to choose bone drugs, remember that your body is capable of building and strengthening bone on its own when given the needed support and time to do so. You should feel empowered to make that decision and not feel pressured to accept a prescription as the first step.

What’s more, if you are already taking bone drugs, and are not completely happy with the results (or are experiencing troubling side effects), we encourage you to continue to explore your options. Many women we have talked with have chosen to take natural steps to support their health, while still taking bone drugs. And many have been able to completely transition to the natural approach. Just know that you are the one who can make the best choice for your individual situation.