Lowering Your Risk for Osteoporosis
Learn Which Risk Factors Are in Your Control
There are many genetic and environmental factors that contribute to your risk of developing osteoporosis. The condition, which some people may think is a customary part of old age, can be preventable with lifestyle changes that promote healthy, strong bones.
The important thing to remember is that while you can’t change some of your risk factors for osteoporosis, many others are well within your control.
Osteoporosis Risk Factors You Cannot Control
Several risk factors for osteoporosis cannot be changed:
- Age: Bone loss builds up as you age, so the older you are, the higher your risk for osteoporosis. Many women suffer from rapid bone loss in the years immediately following menopause.
- Gender: Women have a peak bone mass (the highest potential bone mass you will have in your lifetime) that is lower than men. This means that they have less bone to lose should they begin to experience a reduction in bone density.
- Race: Individuals of all races and ethnicities can be affected by osteoporosis, but people who are white or Asian have a higher risk.
- Family history of osteoporosis: Your genes play a role in your risk for developing osteoporosis; if your parents have a history of the condition or of broken bones related to low bone mass, you have a higher risk of also having bone problems, too.
- Small body frame: Both women and men who have small bones have a heightened risk of fractures and breaks.
Osteoporosis Risk Factors You May Be Able to Control
If you read the above list and feel that the odds are against you, remember that genetic factors are not solely responsible for osteoporosis. Getting a grasp on your controllable risk factors early in life can help you lower your susceptibility to osteoporosis, regardless of the number of uncontrollable risk factors you have.
- Diet: Your intake of calcium and vitamin D is important throughout your lifetime; calcium helps to build strong bones, and vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. For tips on eating right, read the Dietary Tips for Osteoporosis Prevention article in this Patients’ Guide.
- Some medical conditions: Certain medical conditions have been linked to an increased risk of osteoporosis. Conditions that require more than 2 weeks of corticosteroid use, cystic fibrosis, inflammatory bowel disorders, and rheumatoid arthritis can all contribute to your osteoporosis risk. Additionally, anorexia has been tied to low body weight and amenorrhea (abnormal lack of menstrual periods), which can damage your bones. Talk to your doctor if you struggle with anorexia or another eating disorder.
- Physical activity levels: Exercise can help you raise your peak bone mass and strengthen your bones, making you less prone to fractures and breaks. Read our Exercise Tips to Prevent Osteoporosis article to learn more about how exercising in your 30s and 40s can help you prevent osteoporosis.
- Sex hormone deficiencies: Amenorrhea causes low levels of estrogen in your body and contributes to your osteoporosis risk. Conditions that can cause amenorrhea in young women include eating disorders, high intensity exercise, and premature menopause. Similarly, low testosterone in men can affect bone health. Ask your doctor about treatments for low estrogen or testosterone levels.
- Alcohol and smoking behavior: Both excessive alcohol use and smoking have been linked with an increased risk for osteoporosis. Alcohol abuse and smoking cessation programs can help you kick the habit—and improve your bone health.
- Long-term, high dose usage of some medications: Long-term use of some medicines, such as some drugs that are used to suppress the immune system, corticosteroids, chemotherapeutic drugs, and antacids that contain aluminum, can lead to bone loss. Ask your doctor about the impact of your medications on your bone health and the risks and benefits of switching to an alternative treatment.
Don’t be discouraged if you have multiple uncontrollable risk factors for osteoporosis. With dietary changes, physical exercise, and planning to decrease other preventable risk factors, you can take steps to strengthen your bones and protect yourself against future bone damage.
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- About Osteoporosis: Factors That Put You at Risk. National Osteoporosis Web site. http://www.nof.org/aboutosteoporosis/bonebasics/riskfactors. Accessed October 4, 2012.
- Osteoporosis Handout on Health. NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center Web site. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Bone/Osteoporosis/osteoporosis_hoh.asp?print=yes. Updated October 2011. Accessed October 3, 2012.