Bone Drugs May Have Added Benefit: Lower Pneumonia Risk

Osteoporosis drugs such as Fosamax and Actonel may have an additional benefit: A new study suggests they are associated with a reduced risk for pneumonia.

Researchers studied the nitrogen-containing bisphosphonates, prescription drugs sold under various brand names for the treatment of osteoporosis. Using a database of patients 50 and older hospitalized for hip fracture, the scientists compared 4,041 people who used bisphosphonates with 11,802 who were not exposed to the drugs.

In an average follow-up of almost three years, they found that compared with those who never took the drugs, people who used bisphosphonates had a 24 percent reduced risk of getting pneumonia and a 35 percent reduced risk of dying from it. The reason for the effect is unclear.

The study, in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, adjusted for the use of many other medicines. Bisphosphonates lowered the risk even in people already vaccinated against seasonal flu and pneumococcus, two common causes of pneumonia.

A co-author, Dr. Douglas P. Kiel of Hebrew SeniorLife and Harvard Medical School, stressed that the study is observational and does not prove cause and effect.

“It is too early to be prescribing these drugs for pneumonia,” he said. “But if physicians would do what is expected — treat people after a fracture and prescribe bisphosphonates — you might get a bonus by reducing pneumonia.”

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