There are several medications used to treat osteoporosis, depending on gender. Lifestyle changes are also an aspect of treatment.
Bisphosphonates are the main pharmacological measures for treatment. However, newer drugs have appeared in the 1990s, such as teriparatide and strontium ranelate.
In confirmed osteoporosis, bisphosphonate drugs are the first-line treatment in women. The most often prescribed bisphosphonates are presently[update] sodium alendronate (Fosamax) 10 mg a day or 70 mg once a week, risedronate (Actonel) 5 mg a day or 35 mg once a week and or ibandronate (Boniva) once a month.
A 2007 manufacturer-supported study suggested that in patients who had suffered a low-impact hip fracture, annual infusion of 5 mg zoledronic acid reduced risk of any fracture by 35% (from 13.9 to 8.6%), vertebral fracture risk from 3.8% to 1.7% and non-vertebral fracture risk from 10.7% to 7.6%. This study also found a mortality benefit: after 1.9 years, 9.6% of the study group (as opposed to 13.3% of the control group) had died of any cause, indicating a mortality benefit of 28%.
Oral bisphosphonates are relatively poorly absorbed, and must therefore be taken on an empty stomach, with no food or drink to follow for the next 30 minutes. They are associated with esophagitis and are therefore sometimes poorly tolerated; weekly or monthly administration (depending on the preparation) decreases likelihood of esophagitis, and is now standard. Although intermittent dosing with the intravenous formulations such as zolendronate avoids oral tolerance problems, these agents are implicated at higher rates in a rare but unpleasant mouth disease called osteonecrosis of the jaw. For this reason, oral bisphosphonate therapy is probably to be preferred, and prescribing advice now recommends any remedial dental work to be carried out prior to commencing treatment.
Recently, teriparatide (Forteo, recombinant parathyroid hormone residues 1–34) has been shown to be effective in osteoporosis. It acts like parathyroid hormone and stimulates osteoblasts, thus increasing their activity. It is used mostly for patients with established osteoporosis (who have already fractured), have particularly low BMD or several risk factors for fracture or cannot tolerate the oral bisphosphonates. It is given as a daily injection with the use of a pen-type injection device. Teriparatide is only licensed for treatment if bisphosphonates have failed or are contraindicated (however, this differs by country and is not required by the FDA in the USA. However, patients with previous radiation therapy, or Paget’s disease, or young patients should avoid this medication).
Oral strontium ranelate is an alternative oral treatment, belonging to a class of drugs called “dual action bone agents” (DABAs) by its manufacturer. It has proven efficacy, especially in the prevention of vertebral fracture. In laboratory experiments, strontium ranelate was noted to stimulate the proliferation of osteoblasts, as well as inhibiting the proliferation of osteoclasts.
Strontium ranelate is taken as a 2 g oral suspension daily, and is licenced for the treatment of osteoporosis to prevent vertebral and hip fracture. Strontium ranelate has side effect benefits over the bisphosphonates, as it does not cause any form of upper GI side effect, which is the most common cause for medication withdrawal in osteoporosis. In studies a small increase in the risk of venous thromboembolism was noted, the cause for which has not been determined. This suggests it may be less suitable in patients at risk for thrombosis for different reasons. The uptake of (heavier) strontium in place of calcium into bone matrix results in a substantial and disproportionate increase in bone mineral density as measured on DXA scanning, making further followup of bone density by this method harder to interpret for strontium treated patients. A correction algorithm has been devised.
Although strontium ranelate is effective, it’s not approved for use in the United States yet. However, strontium citrate is available in the U.S. from several well-known vitamin manufacturers. Most researchers believe that strontium is safe and effective no matter what form it’s used. The ranelate form is simply a device invented by the Servier company of France so that they could patent their version of strontium.
Strontium, no matter what the form, must be water-soluble and ionized in the stomach acid. Strontium is then protein-bound for transport from the intestinal tract into the blood stream. Unlike drugs like sodium alendronate (Fosamax), strontium doesn’t inhibit bone recycling and, in fact, may produce stronger bones. Studies have shown that after five years alendronate may even cause bone loss, while strontium continues to build bone during lifetime use.
Strontium must not be taken with food or calcium-containing preparations as calcium competes with strontium during uptake. However, it’s essential that calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D in therapeutic amounts must be taken daily, but not at the same time as strontium. Strontium should be taken on an empty stomach at night.
Estrogen replacement therapy remains a good treatment for prevention of osteoporosis but, at this time, is not recommended unless there are other indications for its use as well. There is uncertainty and controversy about whether estrogen should be recommended in women in the first decade after the menopause.
In hypogonadal men testosterone has been shown to give improvement in bone quantity and quality, but, as of 2008, there are no studies of the effects on fractures or in men with a normal testosterone level.
Selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM)
SERMs are a class of medications that act on the estrogen receptors throughout the body in a selective manner. Normally, bone mineral density (BMD) is tightly regulated by a balance between osteoblast and osteoclast activity in the trabecular bone. Estrogen has a major role in regulation of the bone formation-resorption equilibrium, as it stimulates osteoblast activity. Some SERMs such as raloxifene, act on the bone by slowing bone resorption by the osteoclasts.SERMs have been proved as effective in clinical trials.