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Osteoporosis: Why It Affects More Women Than Men

Osteoporosis is a bone condition that causes bones to thin and weaken over time, making them easier to break. It affects both men and women. One in two women over 50 and one in four men will experience an osteoporosis related fracture in their lifetime. Also 2 million men have osteoporosis.

Yet it’s estimated that 80 percent of the 10 million Americans with osteoporosis are women. Women tend to have smaller, lighter bones than men. This makes women more susceptible to osteoporosis as there is less mass, and menopause has a greater effect on their bones. Plus, after menopause the body produces less estrogen and progesterone – two common female hormones that help keep bones strong. A lack of estrogen can cause bone loss in younger women too. These differences mean women tend to see faster bone loss than men. Early menopause can cause early bone loss and disease well before the age of 65. Women lose more than 30% of their bone mass within five years after menopause.

So what can women do to fight against osteoporosis? It starts with understanding human bones.

Bones and How They Work

Bone is constantly being built, torn down and rebuilt in the body. As the body digests nutrients like calcium, vitamin D and potassium, it creates bone mass. Exercises like walking or jogging also help to strengthen bones.

Strengthening of bones typically continues until people are in their mid-30s. Then bones begin to lose their density. The hard minerals in bone are replaced by empty honey-comb like tissue. Lighter and more fragile, they break more easily when you fall or have an accident.

Risk Factors

Beyond gender, risk factors for osteoporosis include:

  • Early menopause
  • Race white, Asian
  • Smoker
  • Thin frame
  • Steroid use
  • Exposure to breast cancer drugs
  • Age
  • Prior fracture as adult
  • Parental history of hip fracture
  • Vitamin D deficiencies

In Americans over age 50, osteoporosis is most common in women of European or Asian descent. Nearly half have low bone density levels, also known as osteopenia. Asian women have the lowest bone density but are less likely to break bones than white or Hispanic women.

In young women, anorexia, bulimia and lack of periods can elevate your chances of the condition over time. This is common with athletes who may have eating disorders or too little body weight because of high activity levels.

Additionally, inadequate physical activity (weight bearing exercise), smoking and drinking too much alcohol increase your risk.

How Can I Prevent Osteoporosis?

All adults should take steps to strengthen their bones. Start right now, no matter your age. Start by looking at your lifestyle habits.

  • Quit smoking.
  • Limit alcohol consumption.
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in calcium and vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential to absorbing calcium. You’ll find it in cooked salmon; dairy products and greens including broccoli, bok choy and kale.
  • Get at least 30 minutes a day of weight-bearing physical activity. Jogging, walking and hiking are great activities to strengthen your bones. Dancing, yoga and tai chi can also build up your density levels while improving your balance.
  • Get outdoors in the sun. Sunshine helps your body process vitamin D, which is essential to calcium absorption. Exercise outdoors and get a double benefit!
  • Get your vitamin D and calcium levels checked by your health care provider if you are over the age of 50 or post menopause.

The Takeaways

Where do you go from here? Don’t wait until you break a wrist or leg to find out you have osteoporosis.

During regular check-ups with your health care provider, ask if you’re at risk. Your provider can work with you to evaluate all your risk factors.

The best way to check your bone-density level is a bone-mineral X-ray test. Generally, your provider will recommend you have your first bone-mineral density screening if you:

  • Are age 65 or older, also during early menopause without estrogen replacement.
  • Have broken a bone after age 50.
  • Have other risk factors such as family history, history of smoking, heavy alcohol use, currently on steroids, treated with Arimidex for breast cancer, thin frame.

Talk to your health care provider about the appropriate screening intervals after your first bone density screening.

Meet the Author

Rodney J. Halvorsen, MD is an OBGYN at Aurora Health Center located in Kenosha, WI.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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