Osteoporosis: Who is at risk and how to prevent it

Know your osteoporosis risk factors and take steps to keep bones strong

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Many people have experienced a broken bone (fracture) in their lives. Usually, the bone heals, and you get back to your life. But fractures from osteoporosis are a different story.

Osteoporosis is a bone disease. It leads to brittle or weak bones that are more likely to break. Up to half of women and a quarter of men over age 50 get this condition. If you have osteoporosis, an everyday fall or a light impact can cause a fracture. It’s also harder for bones to heal after a break, which can lead to serious complications.

But you can take steps to maintain bone health and prevent osteoporosis. The first step is talking with your healthcare provider to learn your risk for this condition. Then you and your provider can discuss ways to prevent osteoporosis so you can stay healthy.


Risk factors for osteoporosis

Osteoporosis can affect anyone. But these factors increase your risk:

  • Sex: Women have a higher risk than men because their bones tend to be smaller and less dense. But men get osteoporosis too — and many don’t get the screenings they need to prevent it.
  • Age: Bone growth slows down with age, so people over age 50 have a higher risk.
  • Body size: People who have a slender build or thin bones tend to have less bone mass.
  • Race: Non-Hispanic white women, women of Asian descent and white men have a higher risk than other ethnicities.
  • Family history: If your parent had osteoporosis or a hip fracture, you have a higher risk.
  • Hormone levels: Low estrogen in women and low testosterone in men may increase the risk of osteoporosis. Low estrogen may be caused by menopause or surgical removal of the ovaries. In men, certain health conditions like pituitary disorders and HIV/AIDS can cause low testosterone.
  • Smoking: Studies have shown a direct link between smoking and decreased bone mass. If you smoke, check with your insurance company about smoking cessation resources. You can also ask your doctor for help.
  • Alcohol: Heavy alcohol consumption raises the risk of osteoporosis. Limit alcoholic drinks to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.


Medications that increase the risk of osteoporosis

Certain medications can raise your risk of getting osteoporosis. Talk to your doctor about your medicines and whether you need osteoporosis testing. But don’t stop taking your medications without your doctor’s approval.


Medical conditions that may increase bone loss

Some medical conditions can increase the risk of bone loss and osteoporosis, including:

  • Certain types of cancer, including breast and prostate cancer.
  • Conditions that cause extreme weight loss, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia.
  • Endocrine and hormonal conditions such as thyroid conditions and Cushing’s disease.
  • Gastrointestinal (digestive) diseases such as celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Inflammatory arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis.


Preventing osteoporosis with calcium and vitamin D

Calcium is a mineral needed for bone growth. And vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. Everyone needs calcium and vitamin D throughout their life to build strong bones.

Most people get some calcium through foods, such as dairy products like milk and cheese. Leafy green vegetables and fortified cereal also contain calcium. But if you’re not getting enough through your diet, ask your provider if you should take a calcium supplement. 

Vitamin D is hard to find in foods. Your body makes vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight. But extended sun exposure without SPF protection can cause skin damage and cancer. Your provider may recommend a supplement to safely increase your vitamin D intake.


Other ways to improve bone strength

You can take steps to prevent osteoporosis by making positive changes for your bone health:

  • Move your body: Walking, jogging and dancing are weight-bearing activities that help build strong bones. Lifting light weights or weight exercises like pushups and squats are also helpful.  
  • Avoid crash diets or extreme eating plans: Excessive dieting and very low protein intake can lead to bone loss. Talk to your doctor about an eating plan that’s right for you.
  • Eat healthy foods: Focus on plenty of fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products to build healthy bones.
  • Limit foods high in sodium: Some of the most common high-sodium foods are in packaged and fast foods.
  • Limit caffeine intake: Caffeine is found in energy drinks, coffee, tea and soda.
  • Try to quit smoking: Some insurance companies have smoking cessation programs. Your provider can help you find a program or another quitting method that works for you.
  • Limit or avoid alcohol: If you drink alcohol, limit it to one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men.


Partner with your provider to prevent osteoporosis and fractures

By partnering with your provider, you will gain a better understanding of prevention methods and ways to improve your bone health. No matter your age or risk factors, you can take steps to prevent bone loss and fractures from osteoporosis. Talk with your provider about a plan to keep your bones healthy. Together, you can create an effective care plan that meets both your needs and goals for a better health outcome.


Sources: American College of Rheumatology, National Institute on Aging, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health, National Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center, National Osteoporosis Foundation

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