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Osteoporosis Medications: How They Work

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

Osteoporosis Medication Can Restore Balance continued...

Doctors typically use raloxifene in addition to other osteoporosis medications, not by itself. Because raloxifene may also reduce the risk of breast cancer, it may be a good medicine for someone with osteoporosis who is also at high risk for breast cancer.

The key health benefit: Increased bone mass and reducing the risk of spinal fractures.

Calcitriol

Calcitriol is prescription-strength vitamin D. Since vitamin D is essential for bone health, calcitriol might be expected to help.

In treating or preventing osteoporosis, calcitriol has shown promise in some studies, but not in others. Also, this drug requires periodic monitoring of calcium levels. Most experts do not recommend calcitriol as a first-line treatment for osteoporosis.

Teriparatide

Teriparatide is a prepared form of human parathyroid hormone. This hormone has a tricky effect. Constant high levels of parathyroid hormone cause bone resorption and loss. But intermittent doses of teriparatide cause bone formation.

Teriparatide is the only medicine today proven to stimulate bone growth. It's also proven to prevent fractures. Teriparatide has two main drawbacks: it's extremely expensive, and it must be given as an injection.

Also, when teriparatide is given to women already taking bisphosphonates, bone growth is less than when it's given to a woman as a first-line medicine. "It's nice to have a drug that actually builds bone," says Baker. "But the cost issues [with teriparatide] still need to be worked out." The key health benefit: bone grown and reduced risk of fractures.

Vitamin D and Calcium

You won't see million dollar ad campaigns for these low-tech osteoporosis medicines. But don't let that fool you: osteoporosis experts say vitamin D and calcium are key to preventing and managing osteoporosis.

Every postmenopausal woman should take 1,200 milligrams of calcium a day, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. For women or men with osteoporosis, the need is even greater. As Baker puts it, "trying to build bone without adequate calcium and vitamin D is like trying to build a brick wall without the mortar."

Many women have low vitamin D levels but don't know it, according to Rhee. Since vitamin D in normal doses is cheap and risk-free, a good option for most postmenopausal women is to take a combined vitamin D and calcium supplement every day.

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