It is bad enough that the story asserts that bisphosphonates prolong life, based on a study design that can’t possibly prove that. Adding the researchers’ musings about a possible mechanism is pure speculation, and just compounds the error.
We think of the thousands of women thinking about osteoporosis who could be misled by the claims in this story and we shudder.
Observational research findings are important and intriguing, but reporting on them requires more context than what was provided in this story if people are to comprehend the true strength or weakness of the available evidence.
There is no discussion of the cost of these drugs. If one is to accept the premise of the story – that taking these drugs “extends life by five years” – one needs to explore how long you would need to take the drugs in order to gain this benefit. And how much would that cost? Not insignificant questions.
Some quantification was provided, but we doubt that many readers could understand them. The story stated: “The death rate for women taking bisphosphonates was 0.8% per 100 person-years, compared with 1.2% for women taking hormone therapy, 3.2% for women taking calcium and vitamin D and 3.5% for women taking no treatment. In men, bisphosphonates also lowered the death rate compared with other therapies.”
Do readers understand person-years?
Why not give the raw numbers?
The story at least mentioned harms, but didn’t give any sense of the scope of the problems. Again, in the context of a story about longterm use of these drugs, the question of harms is important.
The story never addressed the limitations of drawing conclusions from observational studies.
It did state: “It’s not clear what accounts for this benefit. It could be that people taking bisphosphonates are generally healthier or get better overall healthcare. But the researchers suggest that the link is tied to physiology. When people age and lose bone, heavy metals, like lead and cadmium, which are stored in bone over a lifetime are released into the bloodstream and can affect health. Preventing bone loss may prevent the release of these toxic substances and the damage they do.”
But it should have an overarching statement about why you can’t establish cause and effect from this type of study. Read our primer on this topic.
It is bad enough that the report asserts that bisphosphonates prolong life, based on a study design that can’t possibly prove that. Adding the researchers’ musings about a possible mechanism is pure speculation, and just compounds the error.
Not applicable. The story is about extending life, not about any one condition.
No independent expert was quoted in the story. This was badly needed to provide the perspective of the limitations of this research – rather than a headline that stated as fact, “Osteoporosis medication extends life by five years.”
We’ll rule this not applicable – and perhaps that’s being kind. The story could have at least nodded in the direction of what else women can do to try to extend their lifespan – rather than simply the notion of taking bisphosphonate drugs to do so.
Not applicable. The availability of the bisphosphonate drugs is not in question.
The story doesn’t give any context about whether there’s ever been any other research on this question.
The story admits that it took its quote of the co-author from a news release. There is no evidence of any independent reporting.