Posted on 25 March 2022

Can you treat osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a life-limiting condition that causes bones to lose density and strength that can cause fractures, falls and bone breaks. Those diagnosed with osteoporosis may fear the worst, but osteoporosis can be treated, with a combination of medical treatment, dietary supplements and lifestyle changes, say the experts at NICE.

The earlier you act to improve your bone health and protect bone density, the better. In this article, we explore the current treatment for osteoporosis, and the lifestyle changes you can make today to create stronger bones.

Who is at risk of developing osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a medical condition that causes bones to weaken, leaving them at risk of fracture and breaks.

As you age, your body loses the ability to replace lost bone tissue, meaning bones lose density, mass and strength.

The most common injuries include a broken hip, wrist or bones in the back.  Osteoporosis is painless until you experience a break. An osteoporosis fracture is one of the leading causes of hospitalisation, causing 300,000 admissions every year, says NICE.

Osteoporosis affects more than 3 million people in the UK, with many of them unaware they have the condition until they suffer a fracture. If left untreated, people can lose bone density rapidly, which can dramatically impact their freedoms.

The condition is most common in postmenopausal women, those aged over 50 and people who have taken corticosteroids for long periods. A family history of osteoporosis is a risk factor, but the condition can affect anyone.

There is no way to prevent osteoporosis, however, osteoporosis can be treated through medications aimed to slow bone breakdown or in some cases help the body build more bone, other treatments such as supplements and lifestyle changes.


What treatments are available for osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is the deterioration of bone density and deterioration of bone tissue.  Low bone density can lead to fractures, falls and bone breaks that can require hospital treatment.

Osteoporosis is diagnosed using a bone density scan and a discussion of your symptoms. Once osteoporosis has been diagnosed, your clinician will decide on the course of treatment and lifestyle interventions that can help keep your bones healthy. You may be required to have a bone density test every year to assess your bone health, and measure bone density.

NICE recommends that osteoporosis be treated using a combination of medications, and lifestyle changes. Osteoporosis medications aim to help you maintain bone density and bone mass.

Most medications (known as antiresorptive drugs) don’t increase bone growth, and instead, aim to limit bone loss by slowing down the rate your body loses bones. In some cases, anabolic drugs are used to help people with osteoporosis losing bone, and stimulates bone formation.

Current treatments aim to maintain and improve bone density. Together, lifestyle changes and long-term prescription medications can stop bone loss and help the body to produce more bone. However, there are side effects associated with the long-term use of prescription medications.

What medications are prescribed for osteoporosis?

The osteoporosis medication you’re prescribed depends on your gender, age, and type of osteoporosis you are diagnosed with. Let’s look at common osteoporosis treatments in more detail:

Bisphosphonates to treat osteoporosis

The majority of patients with osteoporosis are prescribed bisphosphonates. These are a special type of drug that can help make bones stronger, reducing the risk of suffering broken bones and fractures.

Bisphosphonates are normally taken in tablet form with a drink. You won’t be able to eat for 30 minutes after taking bisphosphonates, and will have to stay upright or you may experience heartburn.

As well as digestive problems, some of the other side effects of bisphosphonates can include:

  • itchy rashes or photosensitivity (rash on exposure to sunlight)
  • a sore mouth
  • flu-like symptoms (more common with intravenous treatment)
  • bone pain (more common with intravenous treatments)
  • muscle pain
  • headaches 

Postmenopausal women with osteoporosis

Post-menopausal women are commonly prescribed alendronic acid and risedronate sodium (two common bisphosphonates) to treat osteoporosis.

Post-menopausal women suffering with severe osteoporosis and at serious risk of fractures and bone breaks may be prescribed teriparatide and romosozumab, says NICE. younger women may be prescribed hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

Men with osteoporosis

Men too are prescribed the bisphosphonates alendronic acid and risedronate sodium, says NICE.

However, if you are resistant to bisphosphonates you may be prescribed alternatives, including Zoledronic acid ,denosumab , teriparatide or strontium ranelate doctors).

Do medications work to treat osteoporosis?

Yes, medications are highly effective at treating osteoporosis, however, they are one strategy in the battle.

NICE recommends that every person diagnosed with osteoporosis makes lifestyle changes that can improve their bone health, and strengthen weakened bones. These same lifestyle changes can go a long way to preventing osteoporosis, too.

Here are 5 ways you can strengthen your bones:

  • Increases physical activity
  • Take supplements
  • Stops smoking 
  • Eat well
  • Cut down on alcohol

Become more active

Regular exercise is essential for everyone, but it’s critical for those with osteoporosis. The NHS provides some Exercises for healthy bones that are low impact and safe. People with osteoporosis should regularly:

  • walk
  • lift weights or use resistance bands
  • run, dance, or ride a bike

Exercise helps to work out the whole body and strengthen bones, while helping you to maintain healthy bone density.

The NHS recommends at least 150 minutes of exercise a week for any aged under 64. While 150 minutes a week is a good target, before starting any exercise programme, chat with your GP. They’ll be able to advise you on exercises and activities that are suitable for you.

While running, jumping, cycling and swimming are all great exercises, they’re not for everyone. In some cases,  exercising with low bone mass puts you at high risk of an osteoporosis-related fracture.  If you’re worried, focus on low-intensity exercises, such as:

  • stair climbing
  • strength exercises at home
  • walking around the house

Exercise plays a key role in keeping your body and bone healthy so anytime you’re active, you’re helping.

Take supplements for osteoporosis

Every patient at risk of osteoporosis should ensure they have an adequate intake of calcium and vitamin d, says NICE. The health body recommends taking supplements if you’re not getting enough calcium or essential vitamins through your diet. “A daily dietary supplement of vitamin D may be considered for those at increased risk of deficiency,” they say.

Supplements help to boost the body, providing the essential vitamins and minerals it needs to stop bone thinning and to stimualte bone growth. Calcium supplements are the start, to increase bone mineral density you should take vitamin d (which helps the body absorb calcium).

Other essential supplements include collagen, curcumin, magnesium and Omega-3. If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, taking supplements is essential.

Stop smoking 

“Smoking has long been acknowledged to be a risk factor for poor bone health as it affects the metabolism of hormones, body weight, vitamin D levels, calcium absorption, blood circulation and increases oxidative stress thus disrupting healthy bone resorption and formation, leading to osteoporosis,” says the NHS.

It’s for this reason that everyone diagnosed with osteoporosis or serious about improving their bones should give up smoking.

Smoking can actively affect your body’s ability to generate new bone, so stopping should be a priority. You can get help to kick the habit with the NHS with support services all over the UK.

Smoking affects bones strength, as well as increasing your risk of developing other dangerous health conditions, such as cancer. 

Eat well

While supplements can provide the essential vitamins and minerals you need, you should aim to eat a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight says the NHS.

ticking to healthy weight and waistline is important to keep your bones healthy and strong, says the NHS. You can check out your current weight using the NHS BMI calculator.

You should aim for a diet that’s low in processed food and contains a mixture of fresh fruits, vegetables (particularly leafy green vegetables) and a healthy supply of protein and dairy products (to provide the increased calcium you need).

Check out the NHS Eat Well website for some ideas and inspiration on how to improve your diet and maintain a healthy weight. Your body and bones will thank you.

Cut down on alcohol

Alongside other risk factors (such as smoking and aBMI over 25) excessvie alcohol intake is linked to poor bone health.

While you can enjoy a drink, stick within the limits says NICE. That’s no more than 14 units a week, spread over 7 days.  Make sure to have a few alcohol-free days to give your body a break.

Chat with your GP or pharmacist if you need any help or advice, or are concerned about being able to stop drinking.


How long can I take medications for osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis treatments are a lifeline, but there are risks with long-term use. Your medication will be reviewed every five years, with the results of a bone density test.

Long-term use of bisphosphonates, for example, can lead to some significant side effects, including osteonecrosis jaw, oesophagal cancer, atrial fibrillation, and raises risks of atypical fractures.

NICE doesn’t recommend bisphosphonates are prescribed for over 10 years, citing a lack of evidence for their effectiveness.

In every case, your clinician will use your bone density results alongside a consultation and discussion with you about your symptoms, any side effects and experiences before deciding on appropriate treatments for osteoporosis.


How can I improve bone density?

As we age, we should all do whatever we can to maintain healthy bones. A broken bone is a sign that osteoporosis has already had a damaging impact on our health, but it’s never too late to act. If you are at risk of developing osteoporosis, or

Medications are safe and effective for treating osteoporosis, but for the best results, you should make lifestyle changes and support these with supplements to increase bone density.

The drugs used to treat osteoporosis maintain bone density, but in most cases won’t rebuild it. Exercise, an improved diet and essential supplements can help your body build new bone tissue, building stronger bones for a better future.

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