Ok, this is different.
Usually when we’re reporting on a new drug study or talking about medication, we’re all about better living through chemicals.
So, it’s a little weird to be talking about a study that recommends not taking medication for a chronic condition.
Let’s take a step back for some context. The study was undertaken by researchers at UCLA, and it had financial backing from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). And the findings were reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
So we’re not talking about Dr. Quackenbull and his Magical Mystery Pills.
At the start of the study, researchers knew that parathyroid glands regulate calcium levels in the body, and that, if they are overactive, it can cause the bone loss disease. What they weren’t sure of, though, was the best approach for preventing bone loss in patients with hyperparathyroidism. So they examined data on 6,000+ people diagnosed with hyperparathyroidism over a 15-year period to compare and contrast the effectiveness of bisphosphonates (drugs that strengthen bones), surgery to remove the parathyroid glands, or doing nothing at all.
The results shocked even the researchers.
In the group of patients who’d had parathyroid surgery, there were only 157 bone fractures per 1,000 people after 10 years. In the group that did nothing at all, that number climbed to 206 fractures per 1,000.
But get this: In the group treated with bisphosphonates, the number jumped to 303 fractures per 1,000! The story is similar when the researchers looked at just hip fractures, which can be particularly devastating: The group of people treating with bisphosphonates experienced hip fractures at a rate greater than the other two groups combined.
So what’s going on here? And what the hell does it mean for people with hyperparathyroidism?! Dr. Michael Yeh, one of the study’s authors, points out that the scans of people taking bisphosphonates show what appear to be nice, dense bones, but there’s some underlying defect in the bone’s quality. Whether that’s due to a problem with the drug or other risk factors in the patients themselves—like lower levels of vitamin D or calcium—is unknown.
But this study should give hyperparathyroidism patients and doctors reason to think twice before choosing between drugs or surgery to prevent osteoporosis.
Or, you know, just sitting on your hands.