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Women's Health: Monthly osteoporosis pill may offer benefits over daily dose

Less frequent treatment with a bisphosphonate is just as effective at building bone density, study shows

Women with osteoporosis, or brittle bones, can reduce their risk of suffering a fracture by taking a bone-strengthening drug called a bisphosphonate. The drugs can be inconvenient to take, but researchers are finding that taking bigger doses less often may be just as effective as a daily pill.

“Taking bisphosphonates requires that the patient take the drug on an empty stomach and not eat for at least 30 minutes,” says Dr. Robert Recker, professor of medicine at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., and a past president of the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research. “Bisphosphonates turn to acid when they hit the stomach, so GI upset is a big problem. … Taking them less often will help.”

In one recent study, researchers compared bone density in nearly 1,300 women who were randomly assigned to take five milligrams of the bisphosphonate risedronate daily or 150 milligrams monthly. The women all had weakened bones and were between 50 and 88 years of age. Both groups had similar increases in bone density after one year.

Dr. Michael McClung, one of the study researchers and director of the Oregon Osteoporosis Center in Portland, says the observed increases in bone density are similar to those seen to reduce fractures in osteoporosis, but the actual fracture rates in the two groups have not yet been assessed.

Side-effects such as abdominal pain, constipation and influenza occurred at rates of four to nine per cent.

The study was funded by Procter & Gamble Pharmaceuticals, which markets risedronate under the brand name Actonel.

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