The drug -- Actonel (risedronate sodium) -- is already widely prescribed to treat post-menopausal osteoporosis in women, and recently received approval from the FDA based on the results of a two-year study of nearly 300 men with "soft bones." The drug makers say Actonel improved lumbar bone mineral density after six, 12 and 24 months. Side effects of the drug include back pain and constipation.
The National Osteoporosis Foundation says 2 million U.S. men have osteoporosis -- a condition largely thought to be brought on by aging, alcohol use, low testosterone levels and oral steroid use. An additional 12 million are at risk of the condition, according to Actonel's makers.
Critics of Actonel advocate safer alternatives for treating osteoporosis in both men and women, including low-cost, simple methods such as getting enough natural sunlight exposure to produce adequate amounts of vitamin D in the skin. Supplementing with calcium -- which is only effective if the body has enough vitamin D -- can also prevent and treat osteoporosis, as can engaging in strength training and weight-bearing exercise.
"Big Pharma sees men as yet another target market for pushing osteoporosis drugs," says Mike Adams, a consumer health advocate and critic of the over-prescribing of drugs. "Advertisements will soon appear, scaring men into thinking they have fragile bones and touting the supposed benefits of these drugs," he says, "but what these men will never be told is that they can easily reverse fragile bones by boosting sunlight exposure, engaging in weight-bearing exercise and avoiding high-acid sugar drinks such as sodas."