Osteoporosis in Men
7 Factors That Raise a Man’s Risk for Osteoporosis
By Jennifer Warner; Reviewed by Farrokh Sohrabi, MD
Last Updated: 6/2/2014
Many men are unaware of their osteoporosis risk until it’s too late, after a fall sends them to the hospital. Find out how to protect bone health.
It’s a common misconception that osteoporosis only affects older women. In fact, men over 50 are more likely to break a bone due to osteoporosis than to get prostate cancer.
An estimated 2 million men in the United States have osteoporosis, and another 12 million are at risk for the bone-thinning disease. Men who develop osteoporosis are also more likely to become disabled or die as a result of a hip fracture or another complication than are women.
Despite these sobering statistics, osteoporosis usually isn’t on men’s radar as a major health risk.
“Men don’t think about it as much as women,” said Matthew Drake, MD, PhD, an endocrinologist, assistant professor of medicine, and male osteoporosis researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. It might just be time that you do.
What Raises a Man’s Osteoporosis Risk?
Many of the same risk factors that affect women apply to men, too, but men also face some unique challenges when it comes to maintaining bone health and reducing their osteoporosis risk.
“The main risk for male osteoporosis is simply getting older,” Dr. Drake said. “Beyond the age of 50, men begin to steadily lose bone at rate of about 0.5 to 1 percent per year.” Bone is constantly being removed, reabsorbed, and rebuilt in the body. This bone remodeling process is balanced, for the most part, until age 50. After that, he said, the amount of bone being reabsorbed into the body exceeds the amount being put back, leading to thinning, weakened bones.
2. Loss of testosterone.
As men age, testosterone levels naturally decrease, and this likely contributes to the age-related loss of bone. “Because testosterone is the source of the small amount of estrogen we make, our estrogen levels decrease as well,” Drake said. “Estrogen is very important at the molecular level and affects the balance of bone-building and bone-reabsorbing cells.”
Drake added that part of the reason osteoporosis is less common in men is because they don’t go through menopause and the accompanying rapid rate of bone loss due to declining estrogen levels. Instead, men tend to develop osteoporosis about 8 to 10 years later than women. He said there isn’t much that men can do about the age-related decline in testosterone levels associated with bone health. Testosterone supplementation is not recommended unless testosterone levels are very low.
3. Not getting enough calcium and vitamin D.
Calcium and vitamin D play a critical role in bone health. Calcium is a mineral essential to building strong bones, and vitamin D helps the body absorb the calcium in your diet. Men older than 50 need about 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium each day. Good sources of calcium include milk and other dairy products as well as fortified orange juice and cereals.
4. Not getting enough exercise.
Try to get in at least 30 minutes a day. Exercises that make you work against gravity, called weight-bearing exercises — like walking, jogging, basketball, soccer, and hiking — help maintain bone health. Your bones support the weight of your body during these types of exercises, which keeps them strong.
The use of tobacco is directly linked to decreased bone density.
6. Drinking too much alcohol.
Overindulging can speed up bone loss. Drake recommended men drink no more than two alcoholic drinks a day to protect their bones.
7. Taking certain medications.
Many common medical conditions and the medicines used to treat them can cause bone loss. Included are depression, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and drugs like steroids and some medications used to treat heartburn and cancer.
Talk to your doctor about the various medications you’re taking, how they may affect your bones, and what precautions you can take to reduce your risk of osteoporosis.
Not a YMCA member?