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Treatment of osteoporosis


Calcium is an important component of bone. Therefore, it is important that we eat sufficient calcium to maintain our skeletons, but there is no evidence that taking more than this is helpful. There is controversy regarding what is an adequate intake, recent evidence suggesting that as little as 500 mg/day (2 servings of dairy products) is sufficient in adults, though some experts still recommend 1000 mg/day, or more. Many older people find it difficult to take 1000 mg/day in their diets, so use supplements. However, there are now several safety concerns related to calcium supplements, and the consensus is that calcium from the diet is to be preferred. People ingesting at least 2 servings of dairy products daily are likely to be receiving enough calcium.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a substance made in the skin as a result of sunlight exposure. It facilitates absorption of calcium from the diet. When vitamin D levels are very low, mineralisation of bone is impaired. Individuals who never go outside (e.g. frail elderly), those who are veiled, and those who have dark skin are at risk of vitamin D deficiency, so might benefit from a vitamin D supplement. The use of supplements by those who are not deficient does not improve bone health. Most healthy European New Zealand adults living independently do not require vitamin D supplements.

Prescription medicines

If a prescription medicine is considered appropriate, then there are a number of options available in New Zealand that can be used to preserve or even increase your bone mass.

The most commonly prescribed drugs to treat osteoporosis are the bisphosphonates. In New Zealand, four bisphosphonate drugs are licensed: alendronate, etidronate, risedronate and zoledronate. The first three are taken as tablets and zoledronate is given as an infusion which may be repeated after 12 months or longer. Other available treatments include menopausal hormone therapy, raloxifene and teriparatide.

The Medsafe website provides information on the regulation of medicines and medical devices in New Zealand and the safe use of medicines. Links to their information sheets on medications for osteoporosis can be found below.

For Consumers

For Health Professionals