Letter to the Washington Post: Why Some Women Are Afraid to Treat Osteoporosis

As a longtime Washington Post subscriber and women’s health advocate, I was disappointed to see “Why some women are afraid to treat osteoporosis” published on your website Tuesday.

The author, in an attempt to emphasize the importance of appropriately treating osteoporosis, dismisses the very real and serious risks of bisphosphonate use. Bisphosphonates can be effective in treating osteoporosis in some women, but when used as a preventive measure, actually cause the very fractures they are supposed to prevent. The over diagnosis of low bone density (osteopenia) and the over-prescription of bisphosphonates to “treat” this “disease” has hurt women - and done far more harm than good.

The National Women’s Health Network and other women’s health organizations have worked hard to combat the misleading and downright dangerous claims surrounding bisphosphonate use. We support the use of bisphosphonates in women who may benefit from their use, but they should only be used for treatment following an official osteoporosis diagnosis - and for the least amount of time possible (and never longer than 5 years). Encouraging bisphosphonate use beyond these circumstances is bad medicine and bad precedent.

Women continue to experience gaps in healthcare access for a variety of issues, and we advocate for changes in the healthcare system that would remedy this. Bisphosphonate use, however, is one time when less really is more.

Cynthia A. Pearson

Executive Director

National Women’s Health Network

Cindy Pearson was the NWHN’s Executive Director from 1996 to 2021. One of the nation's leading advocates for women's health, Cindy often testified before Congress,  NIH and the FDA and was frequently featured in the news as a consumer expert on women’s health issues. When she retired, Cindy received a Congressional Resolution in honor of her outstanding contributions to the health of women and girls.

Read more from Cindy Pearson.