Are You At Risk of Developing Osteoporosis?

Some people are more likely than others to develop osteoporosis.

  • Risk factors
  • Why your teenager should be concerned
  • Can men be affected too?

Risk Factors For Osteoporosis

Certain risk factors greatly increase the chance of someone developing osteoporosis.

These risk factors are:

  • Menopause in women. The risk of developing osteoporosis is much higher in women after menopause. In fact, the earlier the menopause, the greater the risk. Most women, on average, begin menopause at age 45 to 55. After menopause, the ovaries produce less estrogen, which results in less bone formation and more bone loss.
  • Hysterectomy that included removal of the ovaries. Younger women who have had both ovaries removed as part of their hysterectomy are also at higher risk. Younger women who have had a simple hysterectomy, with their ovaries left intact, are not at higher risk.
  • Age and gender. After we reach maturity, there is a gradual decrease in the total amount of bone formed, compared to the amount of bone removed. After age 30 or 40, this may lead to a gradual loss of bone, which occurs more rapidly in women than in men. At first, the loss is so gradual it cannot be detected. But people over age 40, and women in particular, are at increased risk.
  • Race. Although osteoporosis is common in people of northern European heritage, recent studies show that low bone mass is actually common in many populations, including Caucasian, Hispanic, American Indian and even African-American. It is no longer thought to be simply a problem of older white women.
  • Cigarettes. Smoking cigarettes may double the risk of developing osteoporosis. This is most likely because smoking lowers the estrogen level in the blood.
  • Family members with osteoporosis. The risk of developing osteoporosis seems to be higher if other blood relatives have the condition. This is particularly the case for women whose mothers have osteoporosis.
  • Women who are underweight. Women who are underweight for their height often develop osteoporosis more rapidly. Women who are overweight actually have less chance of developing osteoporosis. This may be caused by a difference in the production of estrogen in overweight women.
  • Lack of regular exercise. Regular exercise helps to delay osteoporosis and can even reverse its progression. On the other hand, lack of exercise can make people much more vulnerable to osteoporosis. Exercise, especially weight-bearing activity such as walking, stimulates the bone cells to be more active and to produce stronger bone. Without weight-bearing activity, bones may become less dense and weaker.
  • Use of certain medications. Certain medications may increase the risk of developing osteoporosis. They seem to increase bone loss and decrease bone formation. The most common are cortisone-like drugs (used for asthma, lung disease, arthritis, and allergies). This is especially true if these drugs are used in high doses or are taken for three months or more. Using these drugs for a few days, or even a few weeks, usually will not increase your risk of developing osteoporosis. Thyroid medications may also contribute to osteoporosis if taken in high doses.
  • Medical problems. Certain medical conditions are likely to increase the risk of developing osteoporosis. These conditions include rheumatoid arthritis, chronic bronchitis and emphysema, hyperthyroidism (overactivity of the thyroid gland), malnutrition (especially when associated with heavy alcohol use), chronic liver disease, and some forms of intestinal disease.
  • Low calcium or vitamin D in your diet. If your diet is consistently low in calcium over the years, especially during the growth years, your risk of developing osteoporosis is increased. Calcium deficiency leads to less bone formation. Vitamin D is needed to help the body absorb calcium and maintain bone.

How-To Information:

Here are the risk factors you are able to change:

  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Being underweight
  • Lack of exercise
  • Use of certain medications
  • Low calcium or vitamin D in your diet

Here are the risk factors that cannot be changed:

  • Menopause
  • Having had a hysterectomy with ovary removal
  • Age and gender
  • Race
  • Family member with osteoporosis
  • Medical problems

Why Your Teenager Should Be Concerned

Teenage girls in particular need to be aware that osteoporosis in future years can be prevented.

During the teenage years, the bones are developing rapidly. Recent research has found that bone mass in women may peak as early as their early 20s. If teens get enough calcium, chance are good that their bones will have maximum development and strength.

But the foods that are the best sources of calcium – such as milk and cheese – also contain high calories. As a result, some calorie-conscious teens will eliminate these foods from their diet and may pay the price in later years. If calcium in their diet is consistently low, teens may need a calcium supplement to compensate.

In addition, high levels of phosphates, often found in soft drinks, can cause calcium loss from the bones. For this reason, experts recommend that teens limit their intake of soda.

Can Men Be Affected Too?

Yes. Twenty percent of the people who have osteoporosis are men. A leading medical researcher says that 1.5 million men have osteoporosis and another 3.5 million are at high risk. Experts believe that a decrease in the production of the male hormone testosterone, which happens as a natural part of aging, can accelerate osteoporosis.

Unfortunately, in a recent Gallup survey, a majority of men questioned believed they could not get osteoporosis. The lack of knowledge about osteoporosis and its complications are particularly dangerous because osteoporosis has no early warning.

Therefore, the same prevention advice for women is important for men, too.

Nice To Know:

Q: I’m an older man who has emphysema and has smoked most of my life, though I recently stopped. Do men really have to worry about getting osteoporosis?

A: So much attention has been given to women that osteoporosis may be overlooked in men. Hip fractures are just as limiting and dangerous in men as in women. Risk factors that are common in men who develop osteoporosis are chronic lung disease such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis, as well as the medications often used to treat it. You can help by consuming proper amounts of calcium, exercising as allowed by your physician, and removing any other risk factors.


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