(NaturalNews) Studies published by drug companies exaggerate the benefit of osteoporosis drugs to women who do not have the disease, according to a report published in the journal BMJ.
Drug companies attempt to erase the distinction between osteoporosis and pre-osteoporosis, also known as osteopenia, the report said. But because the risk of fractures is so low in patients with osteopenia, they do not actually need drugs and may needlessly be exposed to potentially dangerous side effects.
Approximately half of all women have symptoms of osteopenia, the report says. Osteoporosis drugs are now officially being marketed to this population in Europe.
"This move to treat pre-osteoporosis raises serious questions about the benefit-risk relationship for low-risk individuals, and about the costs of medicalizing and potentially medicating an enormous group of healthy people," the report says.
The report points to four published studies that exaggerate the benefits of osteoporosis drugs while downplaying their risks. The most common method of exaggeration, according to co-author Pablo Alonso-Coello, a family practitioner in Barcelona, Spain, is to report the benefits of the drugs in relative rather than absolute terms.
Osteoporosis drugs provide the same relative benefit to osteopenia and osteoporosis patients - approximately a 50 percent lower risk of fractures, according to Alonso-Coello.
"But in women with pre-osteoporosis, the risk of fracture is very low, say 1 percent a year, so if you lower that by half, you go down to an 0.5 percent absolute reduction," he said.
The report cites a study that reported a 75 percent decrease of relative bone fracture risk in women with osteopenia patients, but failed to note that this was only a 0.9 percent absolute reduction. In this case, 270 women with osteopenia would have to be treated for three years to prevent a single fracture.
Many studies also fail to mention the risk of serious side effects that can arise from the drugs, such as blood clots or severe bone pain.