Currently, four medications have approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators (SERMs)
Hormone (estrogen) replacement therapy (HRT) is used for both prevention and treatment of osteoporosis. HRT can reduce bone loss, increase bone density in the spine and hips, and reduce the risk of hip and spinal fractures in postmenopausal women.
HRT is usually given as a pill or skin patch. It is effective even when started after age 70. Estrogen taken alone can increase the risk of developing endometrial cancer (cancer of the uterine lining). For this reason another hormone called progestin is usually prescribed in combination with estrogen for women whose uterus is intact.
Side effects of HRT can include nausea, bloating, breast tenderness, and high blood pressure. Some studies indicate a relationship between estrogen use and breast cancer, while other studies do not. Make sure to discuss the pros and cons of estrogen replacement therapy with your doctor.
These compounds inhibit breakdown of bone and slow down bone resorption. They’ve been shown to increase bone density and decrease the risk of hip and spine fractures. Alendronate is the bisphosphonate that has been approved by the FDA for preventing and treating osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. The strongest side effect of alendronate is gastrointestinal problems. To avoid these problems it should be taken on an empty stomach. Also take it with a full glass of water and remain in an upright position for at least thirty minutes afterward.
Calcitonin is used for women who cannot or choose not to take estrogen. For women who are at least five years past menopause, calcitonin can increase spinal bone density and slow bone loss. Calcitonin is a protein, so it cannot be taken orally because it would digest before it goes to work. It is available as an injection or nasal spray.
SERMs are compounds that have effects similar to estrogen in some parts of the body, such as the spine and hip. SERMs seem to prevent bone loss of the spine, hip, and total body. Raloxifene is the SERM drug currently approved by the FDA for prevention of osteoporosis. Its impact on the spine does not appear to be as powerful as either estrogen replacement therapy or alendronate. There are no common side effects with raloxifene. Some women have experienced hot flashes and deep vein thrombosis (DVT).