Statistics show that osteoporosis is much more common in women than in men. Eighty percent of all people with osteoporosis are women. But that does not mean men are safe from the disease. With as many as 2 million men in the United States at risk for the osteoporosis, gender is not an excuse for anyone to ignore the health of his or her bones.
Osteoporosis is a disease that causes bones to become weak and brittle. The word “osteoporosis” means “porous bone.” Instead of looking relatively solid, bones with osteoporosis look like a honeycomb with larger holes or spaces than are found in normal bone. This condition can make bones so weak that bending over, bumping into something, or even sneezing can cause a bone to break. The bones that are most likely to break are the wrist, hip, or spine, but other bones can also be easier to break than normal.
Over time, bone is normally reabsorbed by the body and new bone is created to replace it. Osteoporosis develops when new bone is not created fast enough to keep up with bone loss. Researchers know that calcium and phosphate are two minerals used by the body to make bone. As we age, the body can reabsorb these nutrients from bones, especially if the body is not getting enough calcium from food.
Osteoporosis often sneaks up on both men and women because there are no early symptoms to warn that bones are becoming weak. Some warning signs that you may be losing bone mass include:
• Back pain
• Getting shorter as you age
• Stooped posture
• Broken bones in the wrist, spine, hip, or other places
Osteoporosis has been tied to loss of the sex hormone estrogen in women. As estrogen levels drop around the time of menopause, the body may have difficulty using calcium effectively and may pull more calcium out of bones, causing the bones to grow weak. This means that women over the age of 50 have a higher risk of osteoporosis. Researchers have traditionally associated bone loss in men with the level of the sex hormone testosterone. But more recent studies have shown that bone loss in men may be more closely matched to levels of estrogen rather than testosterone. Whatever the cause, there are steps you can take to limit bone loss and protect your skeleton as you age.
• Calcium and Vitamin D – Calcium and vitamin D work together as part of a healthful diet to protect your bones. Vitamin D is necessary to help the intestines absorb calcium from the foods we eat. Calcium can be found in low-fat dairy products including milk and cheese, as well as in salmon, sardines with the bones, and green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale.
• Don’t smoke – Researchers don’t know exactly why it happens, but they do know that using tobacco can make bones weak.
• Stay active – Any exercise that puts weight on bones helps to keep them strong. So walking, dancing, or lifting light weights can help protect bones.
• Avoid alcohol – Drinking two or more alcoholic drinks a day on a regular basis can increase your risk of developing osteoporosis.
• Medications - Some drugs including some corticosteroids, proton pump inhibitors, and antidepressants can damage bone. Talk to your doctor if you are concerned about your medications.
Whether you are a man or a woman, being aware of your osteoporosis risk can help you protect your bones. A bone mineral density test can help your doctor see if your bones are normal for your peers or if your bones are starting to become brittle. Early treatment can help protect your skeleton and prevent broken bones.
National Osteoporosis Foundation
PubMed Health- Osteoproisis: Thin bones
PubMed Health- osteoporosis: gender differences and similiarities
NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center
Reviewed June 21, 2011
Edited by Alison Stanton