Common osteoporosis medication reduces mortality risk in the elderly

New research has discovered that bisphosphonates, a medication commonly prescribed for osteoporosis, appears to reduce mortality rates among older adults.

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that the per-year mortality rate for bisphosphonate-taking individuals over age 60 was roughly five times lower than for those taking no medications.

The study's authors determined as much after evaluating the bone health of more than 2,000 participants in the Australian Dubbo Osteoporosis Epidemiology Study (DOES). Those studied all had osteoporosis and were taking bisphosphonates, hormone therapy, calcium and vitamin supplements or no treatment at all.

Bisphosphonates are a class of prescription drugs that treats osteoporosis by preventing the absorption of bone minerals by specialized cells, according to the University of Washington School of Medicine. Called osteoclasts, these cells naturally break down bone tissue as a complementary cell type, the osteoblasts, builds it up.

In people with osteoporosis, osteoclasts outpace osteoblasts, leading to weakened and brittle bones. Bisphosphonates give osteoblasts a chance to increase bone density.

Scientists have known that bisphosphonates improve bone strength, but prior to the new study they were unsure what effect this medication had on the mortality rates of older individuals.

Taking into account the length of time that participants lived beyond the initial DOES checkup in 1989, the research team was able to determine that no treatment resulted in 3.46 deaths per 100 person-years (DPP) among women, and 4.3 DPP in men.

By contrast, women taking bisphosphonates had a mortality rate of 0.76 DPP, and men had a mortality rate of 0.99 DPP. Hormone therapy improved the mortality rate among women by almost as much, to 1.2 DPP.

The team noted that calcium and vitamin D therapy, which health experts still agree is essential, lowered the mortality rates only slightly - in women to 3.18 DPP, and in men to 3.13 DPP.

Researchers concluded that bisphosphonates may have an appreciable positive effect on the mortality rate of osteoporotic adults.

An estimated 44 million U.S. adults over the age of 50 have either osteoporosis or low bone mass, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. 
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