AGING
March 1, 2011

Bone Drug Aids Longevity

An Australian study has found that elderly people on this osteoporosis drug are living longer than other people.

According to an 18-year Australian study, elderly individuals taking bisphosphonates, an osteoporosis drug, are living five years longer than those who are taking other osteoporosis treatments or no treatment at all.

People with osteoporosis are more susceptible to bone fractures. Bone fractures in the elderly are not only inconvenient and slow to heal; they're also associated with a shorter life span. The researchers were looking at the effect of three osteoporosis treatments on mortality in elderly people: bisphosphonates, hormone therapy and Vitamin D therapy with or without calcium therapy. They found a clear five-year advantage for those who took bisphosphonates.

While stronger bones mean fewer fractures, the researchers think that this alone is insufficient to account for the size of the increase in longevity. They speculate that the role of bone in storing toxic heavy metals, such as lead and calcium, may be involved.

While stronger bones mean fewer fractures, the researchers think that this alone is insufficient to account for the size of the increase in longevity. They speculate that the role of bone in storing toxic heavy metals, such as lead and calcium, may be involved. As older people lose bone mass, the mineral content of the bones are released back into the body. This includes any stored heavy metals. Bisphosphonates may help prevent some of the toxic metal release.

The study subjects were part of the Dubbo Osteoporosis Epidemiology Study, a group of over 2,000 individuals over the age of 60 living in Dubbo, New South Wales, Australia, who were studied between 1989 and 2007. Of these individuals, 325 women and 37 men were taking some form of osteoporosis treatment. These included 121 people who took bisphosphonates for an average of three years.

As this is the first study to show such a strong mortality benefit, additional studies are needed to confirm it. Most of the bisphosphonate users in the study were women; only 12 were men.

Bisphosphonates were first prescribed to treat osteoporosis in the late 1990s. Since that time, they have been shown to be effective at preventing or limiting bone loss. But there is controversy over whether they increase the risk of osteonecrosis of the jaw (ONJ), a massive degeneration of the jaw caused by bacterial infection. People undergoing dental procedures seem most susceptible.

Current thought is that the best way to prevent this is for dental professionals to be aware of patients who are taking bisphosphonates and for doctors who prescribe bisphosphonates to be told of any dental procedures their patients are planning on having. This allows both dentists and doctors to take preventive measures.

An early version of an article detailing the study was published online by the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism on February 2, 2011.

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