Picture this: a 50-year-old, small-framed woman goes in for her regular check-up. Because of her age, her doctor has her take a “routine” bone density test using a machine that he has right in the office. The DXA scan shows that based on her T-scores, she has osteopenia or osteoporosis.
Immediately, the doctor prescribes a bisphosphonate, such as Fosamax, to “prevent fractures.”
But wait. By what standards were this woman’s density scores measured, and why were drugs automatically presumed to be the solution and prescribed without discussion?
Today we’re going to take a behind-the-scenes and historical look at how we got here.
It’s actually a fascinating true story, full of drama and intrigue, involving Big Pharma, Mainstream Medicine, and a slick marketing campaign for Fosamax, Merck’s blockbuster osteoporosis drug.
It’s like a novel, except it’s true…
Once Upon A Time, Back In The Early 1800s…
A famous English doctor by the name of Sir Astley Paston Cooper, made the association between bone density and fracture risk. His research set the stage for the “discovery” of osteoporosis, which is attributed to a French pathologist named Jean Lobstein, a contemporary of Cooper’s. It was Dr. Lobstein who actually came up with the term osteoporosis (porous bones).
Nearly a century later, along came American medical researcher and endocrinologist Fuller Albright, who discovered the association between osteoporosis and the post-menopausal phase.
Doctors took this knowledge and diagnosed osteoporosis when they saw evidence of it: an elderly woman might sustain a fracture from a minor fall, for instance, or develop a hunchback. Then there really was not any sort of treatment plan available, although scientists were recognizing the connection between calcium in the diet and bone density.
There was a market beginning to develop here, but the pivotal point came in 1992.
The Plot Thickens: The 1992 Conference
In 1992, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF) sponsored a conference in Rome. Note that the IOF is a non-profit organization that just happens to have an enormous corporate advisory board that is made up of no fewer than 31 drug companies and medical equipment manufacturers.
As you’ll soon learn, they did not leave their interests behind when they assembled at the conference.
The ostensible purpose of the conference was to determine if osteoporosis could be prevented. This required a huge shift in the way osteoporosis was perceived.
The New Normal
Savers know that it’s normal to lose some bone mass as we age. Like wrinkles and grey hair, these are simply signs of normal hormonal changes that occur as we grow older. Wrinkles and grey hair are not considered diseases, yet suddenly something normal became abnormal, a “condition” to be prevented and a “disease” to be “cured.”
The new normal would involve a magic number that would determine a “disease state” which would be the threshold for doctors to prescribe drugs.
That magic number, known as the “T-score,” had to be sufficiently broad to allow lots of money-generating prescriptions, but not so broad as to include everyone.
Deciding On New Osteoporosis Parameters Was Like Taking A Shot In The Dark
At the conference, it was decided that “normal” bone density was that of a 30-year-old woman. At the age of 30, bone mass typically peaks. But this fails to take into account that, for someone over the age of 30, “normal” bone mass is simply not the same as their peak bone mass.
In other words, it’s normal for a 50-year-old’s density to be less than a 30-year-old’s, and it’s ridiculous to measure the bone density of a 70-year-old against that of someone four decades younger.
But at the conference, it was decided that anything below this peak density number was “abnormal” and in need of treatment.
They had to come up with an actual T-score that would decide an osteoporosis diagnosis, but no one at the conference really knew how to arrive at the magic number.
According to Anna Tosteson, a professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Medical School who was at the meeting, it took a few days in a hot, stuffy room, to decide where the line would be drawn. As the attendees were getting really uncomfortable with the heat, it came down to just getting it over with, so someone literally drew a line on a graph and declared that all the women on one side of the line had a “disease.”
The actual T-score number was decided in an even more irresponsible way. Researchers resorted to a single analysis of women in a small geographic area (Rochester, Minnesota) and applied that research to every woman in the United States. According to the Rochester study, 16% of post-menopausal Rochester women would fracture their hip.
So the WHO looked at the bone density scores of this 16%, and came up with the average of -2.5 or below as the threshold. From this moment on, any T-score of -2.5 or below was considered “abnormal.”
But what if someone was barely over the line?
Easy! Invent Osteopenia
Amazingly, the WHO arbitrarily decided that T-scores between -1 and -2.5 were the threshold of another condition that had never existed before: osteopenia.
Suddenly, there were two thresholds that opened the door for osteoporosis drugs! Doctors could prescribe sooner and send women as young as 45 out the door with a prescription for a drug that would “build bone” and “prevent osteoporosis.”
And believe it or not, it all happened in just one conference.
Profiting From The New Normal And The New “Disease”
Merck – the very name makes Savers cringe – introduced Fosamax in 1995, just 3 years after the pivotal conference. Now their drug could be prescribed for women were told that they had a disease (osteoporosis), or at the very least, in a precursor of a disease (osteopenia).
With the new definition of osteoporosis and osteopenia, Merck was faced with the challenge of making sure that Fosamax would become a blockbuster drug. And here’s how that became a reality…
Jeremy Allen, The Fosamax “Guru”
Merck approached Jeremy Allen, a UK native, and asked him to figure out a way to increase sales of Fosamax. He had a job to do: get large numbers of women on Fosamax. But how?
After extensive research and interviews with various experts in the field, Allen recognized that the key to selling lots of Fosamax was to get as many women as possible to have their bone density tested so they could get a diagnosis of osteoporosis or osteopenia.
But this was 1995, and bone scans were expensive and inaccessible to many. So here was his plan: make bone scans cheap and available in as many doctors’ offices as possible.
A Corporation Of One: The Bone Measurement Institute (BMI)
Incredibly, Mr. Allen persuaded Merck to simply create the Bone Measurement Institute (BMI), a not-for-profit subsidiary whose goal was to expand as much as possible the use of bone density measuring machines.
Under this official-sounding corporate name, Mr. Allen set about to find a cheap, easy way for doctors to measure bone density – and he found it: peripheral machines.
These small units measured bone density in the wrist or heel, not the spine. So there was no need for a pelvic and spinal density scan.
But Manufacturers Of The Small, Inexpensive Scan Machines Resisted
Why? Wasn’t there money to be made? Actually, many manufacturers refused to get on board with Allen’s plan to place their products in doctors’ offices because it was either not profitable or, as one manufacturing giant put it, their machines were not good diagnostic tools.
The problem is that measuring the bone density of someone’s forearm is a poor predictor of their risk for fracture in the hip and spine.
Yet Merck wanted those machines in doctors’ offices. So…
Merck Partnered With The FDA To Appeal Directly To Doctors
Merck helped fund clinical trials and submissions through the FDA, and the Fosamax sales task force distributed pamphlets to doctors. And they didn’t stop there. Merck’s goal of fundamentally changing the osteoporosis drug market meant getting Medicare to reimburse for bone scans.
A Key Piece Of Legislation: The Bone Mass Measurement Act Of 1997
This was an incredibly important piece of legislation that changed the very rules of Medicare reimbursement. Thanks to the lobbying of BMI and other organizations with an interest in drug sales, millions of people could now afford to have their bone density scanned right there in their doctor’s office.
In a nutshell, after that law was passed, doctors would get paid for doing bone scans.
Ease And Profitability Of Scanning + The Invention Of Osteopenia = Huge Profits For Merck
Think about it. Now bone scans were quick, easy, accessible, and cheap. And the diagnostic line had been drawn so as to include osteopenia so doctors could scan, diagnose, and prescribe all at once.
No wonder that Fosamax sales totaled $3 billion in 2007, one year before its patent ran out.
Fosamax Is A Dangerous Drug
It’s bad enough that millions of women are taking a drug for a disease that does not exist. But it gets worse, because the side effects and dangers of Fosamax (and its generic alendronate) are legion. These are the known risks and side-effects of this toxic drug:
- Increased risk of femur fractures (yes, you read that right)
- Osteonecrosis of the jaw
- Hair loss (alopecia)
- Upper GI irritation/heartburn
- Esophageal ulcers and cancer
- Low blood calcium
- Skin rashes
- Joint and muscle pain
- Swelling of the hands and feet
- Chest pain
- Difficulty swallowing
- Flu-like symptoms
- Thigh and hip pain
…the list goes on.
It is sad and shameful to think that so many women are risking and experiencing these side effects because they’ve been led to believe they have a “disease.” Drug companies like Merck capitalize on this fear, leading doctors and patients alike to believe that osteoporosis drugs are the answer.
Knowledge Is Power Against Fear
A significant part of the Save Our Bones philosophy is that knowledge is empowering. It’s vital that we keep our eyes and ears open, so we don’t fall for what the Establishment is pushing on a mostly unsuspecting public.
While a few doctors are knowledgable, the vast majority of them have fallen for the marketing ploys of pharmaceutical companies like Merck. They may not even realize they’ve been taken in by the slick sales campaign, and in fact, many of them mean well; but they get on board with the “scan, diagnose, prescribe” cycle that is generating so much money for Big Pharma and adversely affecting so many individual lives.
The Osteoporosis Reversal Program is all about empowering the individual. It’s your defense against a sneaky campaign to profit from invented health conditions that instill fear and lead to toxic and often dangerous treatments. If you haven't yet, it's time to take your bone health into your own hands and out of the hands of Big Pharma and the Establishment.
After all, no one knows your body and your health like you do, and you certainly have your best interest at heart!
Till next time,
Stop Worrying About Your Bone Loss
Join thousands of Savers from around the world who have reversed or prevented their bone loss naturally and scientifically with the Osteoporosis Reversal Program.
Comments on this article are closed.
Thank you Vivian, Great article! Well written.
Good article .What do you think about the prolia shot?
I too would like to know your opinion of the Prolia injection? Thank you for your
I am going in this morning to be told to go on drugs for my osteoporosis, that is soooooo severe I could “crumble under the weight” of my own body. I weigh 110, am 5’4″. Good shape, but the bone density is pretty bad – 3.8. So, I see a need to do something, but being very healthy otherwise, I don’t want to cause myself to be sick now. What do you suggest. They tell me only one drug can rebuild! I am only 58 years old, and have a lot of kayaking and other fun stuff in my future. Help
Here is the problem, according to Dr. John R Lee, author of “What Your Doctor May Not Tell you about Menopause” when the body shuts down the reproduction processes, the body stops producing progesterone. Progesterone is one of the two hormones that control bone remodeling. The other one is estrogen.
In bone remodeling the body uses osteoclasts and osteoblasts. The osteoclasts are controlled by estrogen while osteoblasts are controlled by Progesterone. Since the progesterone is almost depleted because when a woman becomes anovulatory there is essentially no more Progesterone she becomes estrogen dominant. Estrogen controls the osteoclasts which break down the bone. Now this process continues which causes lower Dexa scores and since there is no Progesterone the octeoblasts can not rebuild the bone. This is not a calcium deficiency. Low bone density is in reality a low Progesterone problem. The solution is to use bio-identical (the same molecule of Progesterone that the body creates) Progesterone cream. This can be purchased from several reputable manufactures. Because there are so many products out there that doesn’t work PM me and I will direct you to a good product. This only requires 1/8th teaspoon at night and 1/8th teaspoon in the morning. If you have had a hysterectomy then you would need to set up a simulated cycle by NOT using the cream the first 7 days of the month while using the cream the remainder of the month.
I also recommend that you get Dr. Lee’s book and read it so that you know what is going on. The book is well written, I was an electrical mechanical technician the first time I read it.
My wife is using a progesterone cream from a naturopath just North of Atlanta, GA. I have been recommending it to patients for years. You can email me for the website, I have no financial ties to this but I believe it is the best quality around. firstname.lastname@example.org
I recently saw a new, young, keen doctor who checked my records and suggested I should be taking Fosamax for my osteoporosis. I said I refused to take it and she replied “so you would rather take the risk?”
I told her that I thought Fosamax was a much greater risk! She didn’t seem to be aware of the side effects, and I wonder just how common this is.
She didn’t push it, but because I have rejected a couple of other treatments I will probably be seen as a difficult patient. Too bad!
Thank you for all the information about how to achieve better bone health safely. Can you tell me if taking HRT tablets is also a danger to our bones?
Thanks for your great article. What deception!!!
Again I ask my questions does your recipe book work with gluten free diets? I share your recipes with others
What is your opinion of the Great Lakes beef gelatin kosher product?
Does the hydrolysate process lessen its effectiveness?
I haven’t found any easy bone broth recipes using beef bones.
Can’t thank you enough Vivian for your very thorough reporting on Fosamax. I’ve been dealing with osteoporosis since age 45 (I’m now 73) which I got as a result of early menopause caused by a hysterectomy at age 26 coupled with a year long term with prednisone. Currenlty my doctors are pushing Prolia or Forteo, but I have rejected all of them. I’ve only been fortunate to have found you recently and with your guidance am confident that no bones will be broken here. Funny, when I was in my 40’s they told me I had the bones of an 80 year old, and now they are telling me the same thing…..I told them that pretty soon I’ll be all caught up to myself. I have never broken a bone, except for a stupid error on my part which caused 2 ribs to slightly fracture when leaning into the metal part of an open car window. Otherwise, with your concept and of course, my commitment, this will be beat.
I just got my T score it’s 1.9. My Z scores for my Lumbar spine is 1.0; for my hip 0.2; for my femoral neck 0.1 and for my forearm 1.0. I was told to pick up a prescription that had been made for me for a bisphosphonate, I have not done this as intend to fix my bones myself using your programme once I get organised Thanks Vivian, sarah
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THAT GREAT ARTICLE!!! I AM FORWARDING THIS TO MY LADY FRIENDS!…GREAT INFO!!!
Thank you *so* much, Vivian! I love your articles, and each one seems even more wonderful than the one before! I’m so grateful you are out there doing this research and sharing it with us. You are a gift! 🙂 I’ve decided never to take another DEXA scan again. I figure, what is the point? If it’s “bad,” it will only make my doctor freak out about medicines, and I’m never going to take them anyway. I will continue with the Savers program, and my bones will just do what they do. But I’ll be poison-medicine-free! 🙂
– Suzy (age 68, diagnosed with “osteoporosis” about 3 years ago; have fallen twice (on slippery leaves), but have broken nothing! I’m sure it’s the diet and exercise!)
Thank you, Ita.
Similar thing happened to me. I was on Fosamax for aover 10 years when it finally started to bother my stomoach. My Dr. took me off. I got one shot that was to last for 6 months. then I found your site. I have not had any more dexascans, since. I’ve told my Dr that I don’t want any more drugs for Osteoporosis. I wasn’t given any flack about it. Thank you for saving my body from all those chemicals.
An EXCELLENT article!
I continue sharing to my family, friends, and etc. The
SAVEOURBONES Program, especially your New
Expanded Edition book as well as Bone Appetit recipe
book. Thank you very much .
Have a nice day. Marlene
Hi Vivian, I’m currently following the Save Our Bones programme after last year when I was told my bone density was below average T score of 2-5. The doctor said it was up to me if I have medication or not, so I said or not! – This was the wrong answer so the Doctor preceded the scare munger tactics into having the tablets, when I asked him if there was any other way to improve my bone density he said no, As I don’t like taking tablets I searched online and came across your website, and thought, Doc you don’t know everything.
I have a few friends that have taken the medication and after their check up they’ve been told to come of the medication because there bones are back to normal. Would you know why, I think its because they have changed their lifestyle, one of them teaches Lindy Hop dancing.
Thank you so much for this very informative article! I took disk max for years and had bad side effects. I am off all medications and I thank you for this supportive background information!
Thank you, Vivian
For all your hard work – doing research
& sharing with us
I found your article so interesting. Five years ago I broke my hip (tripped over my own feet!) and some weeks afterwards was recommended to have an infusion which took an hour, I confess I cannot remember what it was, but it was to combat osteoporosis. I then discovered your website and the following year when I was summoned to have the infusion, I refused. Since then I have followed your advice, take my vitamins, get lots of exercise (Dogs are very good for this!) and am feeling absolutely fine. It seems that all the pharmaceutical companies are interested in is making their millions, Carry on your good work!
Est ce qu’il y a une traduction possible saveourbones? Où le trouver en français ?
I wish I had been a saver in 1999. My doctor prescribed Fosamax and I did not even have oesteopenia. Then it was Protonix. It was not until 2006 that I woke up and stopped Fosamax. I fear I am still suffering from the side effects. Thank you for all that you do Vivian.
Hi Vivian, very informative article. These big pharma companies are only out to make money without any care for the health of the people. Not just the Big Pharma, i think doctors today are also very unethical (although they are supposed to be most ethical).
Thanks for coming up regularly with such good articles.
Keep it up !
I am 86 years old, ten years ago I was given Forteo injection every day for one year. I decided that was enough as I didn’t see any improvement. I am healthy for my age except I have osteoporosis in both knees. Some days it really bothers me and then some days I am fine. I am getting ready to do PT as my doctor thinks that will help. My doctor is not a drug pusher. He did not recommend the injections, it was another doctor. I was in bed for 6 months with a back problem and that is when the doctor ordered Forteo injections. I really enjoy your articles. God bless you for sharing your information.
Thank you for a great article! I read all of them and I am not shocked by the terrible things people do all for the sake of money.
I am over 50 and was told to take Fosamax a few years ago, but thankfully from reading your articles before…I refused vehemently. They told me I had the bones of a 70 year old, yet I am fit and active and eat a very healthy diet.
Thank you Vivian.
I live in UK and as I am over 60 years of age do not pay for my prescription drugs or to go to general practitioner/family medicine doctor. I was prescribed Fosamax when diagnosed with Osteoporosis but could not take it due to stomach problems also I was attending a Medical Doctor who does nutrition etc and knew he would not approve as he got me healthy after being ill for years and taking steroids for asthma. He put me on 5000ius of Vitamin D3 and my bone density went up significantly in a short time. I had Osteopenia and Endocrinologist I was seeing said no need for Fosamax which I told him I could not take. Of course he did not know how to read the report from doctor in Edinburgh. Anyway, I am told I have Osteopenia in my left hip but my spine is OK with last bone scan DXA which I am called in for every three years here in UK on our National Health System. I did take Didronel years ago and also Actonel when it came on market on advice of Endocrinologist only for months at a time. He did tell me to take Vitamin D though. We tend to be in UK more preventative in things and only go to our doctor at time of health crisis. I am 67 years of age and have done the Nia Technique exercise program to teach, I recommend that anyone goes and finds a class to go to as it works ‘ the body’s way’ which is better than pushing yourself to the limit and ending up exhausted in the gym.
8 years ago (at age 50), I was diagnosed with so-called Osteopenia. My nurse practitioner at my gynecologist ‘s office immediately wanted to prescribe Fosamax, but I refused. Then I got your Save our Bones program and I’m glad I did! I have been using your program for eight years and have never felt better. Thank you so much for all you do!
I heard on the radio this morning that they are suggesting using Fosamax to address metastatic breast cancer.
Wonder if, with your research, you might have a view on this?
Thanks Vivian for this helpful information. I have a scale that not only shows your weight but also measures your BMI, hydration and your bone health levels. I am concerned because my low number, it is 4.0, which is supposedly on the very low end of where it should be according to the little booklet that came with the scale. I know at one point it showed 4.1 and I’m am trying my best to get it to at least this point again. I would like to get your thought about what you think about these scales. Thank you.
That’s a very apposite and interesting summary. Can you also tell us where we can find out what would realistically be ‘normal’ T-score figures according to age?
Ask your doctor for your “Z” score this measures you against your chronological peers.
Thanks for great article. I have been on Fosamax and Boniva. My doctor asked me to stop a few years ago. Thanks Vivian for all the helpful information you send. Consider you an awesome friend, Sharon