Scientists from Australia found that people with osteoporosis taking the bone strengthening drugs gained an extra five years of life compared to those who opted for other forms of therapy for their ailment. It was also noted that patients with the degenerative bone condition, who are taking the anti-osteoporosis drugs, are outliving those who did not ail from the disease. Co-author of the study, Professor John Eisman from Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research stated, “That was the thing that was really remarkable to us – these people were doing better than, if you like, the average community. “Our initial concern was `we’ve somehow selected a healthier group … that’s why they are doing better`, but whatever way we looked at it, it didn’t seem to explain it. “Everything about these people imply they would do worse, but they were doing at least as well (as the general population), if not better.”
A comparative study
In a bid to determine the benefits of bisphosphonates for osteoporosis, the researchers compared the drugs with different treatments, such as calcium, vitamin D, hormone treatment, and no therapy. For the purpose of the study, they analyzed the data from an ongoing Dubbo Osteoporosis Epidemiology Study, which began in 1989. The researchers tracked about 2,000 people over the age of 70, including a sub-group of 121 adults, who had been taking bisphosphonates for three years.
Revelations of the study
It was noted that after a period of five years, the bisphosphonates-taking group exhibited a longer lifespan. The study found that death rates among participants taking bisphosphonates were cut by two thirds, as opposed to those opting for hormone therapy or calcium and vitamin D supplements. Lead author Jacqueline Center, from Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research, stated, “When we first looked at the figures, we thought there had to be a fallacy, that we were missing something. “In a group of women with osteoporotic fractures over the age of 75, you would expect 50 per cent to die over a period of five years. Among women in that age group who took bisphosphonates, the death rate dropped to 10 per cent. “Similarly, in a group of younger women, where you would expect 20-25% to die over 5 years, there were no deaths. “The figures were consistent with about a five-year survival advantage for people on bisphosphonates.”
A plausible explanation
Heavy metals such as lead and cadmium are stored in the bones for decades. However, when people age, the bones become brittle and release the toxics substances into the blood stream which can be potentially hazardous to health. Researchers theorize that by strengthening bones, bisphosphonates prevent the release of these toxic metals and the damage they can incur. Professor John Eisman stated, “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. “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.” The study was sponsored by the National Health and Medical Research Council, health insurer MBF, and with grants from five drug companies that make bone-strengthening drugs. The findings are published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.
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