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Osteoporosis Medications: How They Work

From the latest medications to daily supplements -- what's your osteoporosis medication doing for you?
By
WebMD Feature

Think your bones stopped growing by the time you finished high school? Think again. Bones constantly remodel themselves throughout life, growing here, thinning there.

In osteoporosis, though, normal bone remodeling goes awry. Bone loss exceeds bone growth, and bones become thin and weak. Osteoporosis affects 10 million Americans, leading to 1.5 million fractures every year.

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Confused About Calcium Supplements?

Are you getting enough calcium in your diet? Maybe not, especially if you're a woman or a teenage girl. Although Americans have improved at this in recent years, we're still not getting enough calcium to maintain our bone health. How much is that? It depends on your age. According to the Institute of Medicine, the recommended daily amount of calcium to get is: 1-3 years: 700 milligrams daily 4-8 years: 1,000 milligrams daily 9-18 years: 1,300 milligrams daily 19-50 years: 1,000 milligrams...

Read the Confused About Calcium Supplements? article > >

Osteoporosis medications and physical activity can tip the balance of bone remodeling, preserving bone strength. How does bone remodeling work? What can be done to slow down or reverse bone loss? Read on to learn what you can do to keep your bones healthy and strong.

Bone Remodeling: A Never-Ending Improvement Project

"People think bones are static, but in fact bone is constantly growing and being resorbed," says Mary Zoe Baker, MD, an endocrinologist and professor of medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City. "It has to, in order to heal damage and microfractures" that occur with normal wear and tear, says Baker.

The process of bone remodeling is a give-and-take between two opposing forces, replacing old bone with new bone.

  • Bone loss (resorption): Special cells called osteoclasts break down bone. They are like a demolition crew. When the signal comes, osteoclasts are recruited to enter the bones and secrete enzymes that break down collagen and minerals. Somehow, they know just when to stop to avoid damaging the bone.
  • Bone growth:Special cells called osteoblasts line the surface of bones. In response to signals in the blood, the osteoblasts get to work. They lay down bone, by depositing calcium and phosphate crystals on a scaffolding of collagen.

In healthy bone, the processes of growth and resorption are equalized. Various hormones, including estrogen in women, help keep this balance.

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