We've all heard of osteoporosis, the bone disease that can lead to fractures in older age. But how many of you have heard of osteopenia? Osteopenia is the pre-osteoporosis condition, and, according to drug company research, up to half of all older women have it.
And because they have osteopenia, they really should be taking an anti-osteopenia drug.
But when researchers took a closer look, they discovered a classic case of disease-mongering: drug companies were turning a risk factor into a disease in order to sell drugs.
And even if women buy the argument and take the drug as a just-in-case precaution, they may well then discover - as the researchers did - that the drugs don't work anywhere near as well as the manufacturers claim.
One drug company-funded study claimed that the drug reduced the risk for osteoporosis by 75 per cent, but when the researchers re-analysed the figures, they found the drug reduced the risk by a mere 0.9 per cent. And while they are almost useless at reducing risk, the drugs do come with very real side effects. One osteopenia drug, aloxifene, dramatically increases the risk for blood clots.
Not that this will stand in the way of big pharma. One drug company is already selling its osteopenia drug based on the findings of four studies - the same four that the researchers have unpicked. In addition to them being funded by the manufacturers, the trials also mainly featured staff as the research team.
(Source: British Medical Journal, 2008; 336: 126-9).