Osteoporosis Treatment Adds Five Years to Lifespan, Researchers Suggest

Australian clinical researchers have noted an unexpected benefit of osteoporosis treatment – that people taking bisphosphonates appear to be gaining an extra 5 years of life. These findings are published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Associate professor Jacqueline Center and professor John Eisman, from Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research, based their findings on data from the long-running Dubbo Osteoporosis Epidemiology Study.

Out of a total cohort of around 2,000 participants, a sub-group of 121 people were treated with bisphosphonates for an average of 3 years. When compared with other sub-groups taking other forms of treatment, such as vitamin D or hormone therapy, the longer life associated with bisphosphonate treatment was marked and clear.

“While the results seemed surprisingly good, they are borne out by the data – within the limitations of any study – and appear to apply to men as well as women,” Center stated in a press release. “When we first looked at the figures, we thought that there had to be a fallacy, that we were missing something. One of the most obvious things might be that these are people who seek medical attention, so may be healthier and live longer. So we compared the bisphosphonate group with people taking vitamin D and calcium or women on hormone therapy. The comparison against these other groups of similarly health-aware people simply confirmed that our results were not skewed by that factor. In a group of women with osteoporotic fractures [older than] the age of 75 [years], you would expect 50% to die over a period of 5 years. Among women in that age group who took bisphosphonates, the death rate dropped to 10%. Similarly, in a group of younger women, where you would expect 20% to 25% to die over 5 years, there were no deaths. The data were consistent with about a 5-year survival advantage for people on bisphosphonates.”

“We speculate that it may have something to do with the fact that bone acts as a repository for toxic heavy metals such as lead and cadmium,” Eisman stated. “So when people get older, they lose bone. When this happens, these toxic materials are released back into the body and may adversely affect health. By preventing bone loss, bisphosphonates prevent some of this toxic metal release. While we know that this is the case, we don’t yet have evidence that this produces the survival benefit.”

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