The disease strikes more women, but men are also at risk.
Osteoporosis is often considered a woman’s disease, but men also need to be concerned about this bone-weakening condition. About 2 million men have osteoporosis and another 12 million are at high risk, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.
In fact, older men have a greater risk for an osteoporosis-related fracture than for getting prostate cancer, and about one in four men older than 50 will break a bone because of osteoporosis during his lifetime.
What causes osteoporosis?
Bones maintain themselves through a process called remodeling. It works like this: Calcium is absorbed from the bloodstream to help build your bones. Over time, it’s released as needed back into the bloodstream for reuse elsewhere in the body, with the bone being broken down in places to allow for this release.
This continuous cycle of bone demolition and reconstruction goes on throughout your life, but as you age, the demolition process outpaces bone building. Eventually, your bones can become thin, porous, and weak, which makes them susceptible to breaks or fractures. Besides age, other factors can contribute to osteoporosis. These include:
- heavy alcohol use
- lack of calcium and vitamin D
- family history and ethnic background (Asian Americans and whites are more at risk than others)
- chronic diseases affecting the kidneys (including kidney stones), lungs, stomach, and intestines.
Another common cause of osteoporosis is excessive use of certain medication—for example, steroids to treat rheumatoid arthritis, other autoimmune disorders, and some cancers. Other medications that may cause a problem include androgen deprivation therapy used to treat prostate cancer, anticonvulsants for epilepsy, thyroid hormone replacement for an underactive thyroid, certain drugs given to organ transplant patients, and some chemotherapy drugs.
Osteoporosis can be detected early with a bone mineral density test, and there are steps men can take to help prevent and treat osteoporosis, according to Dr. Anthony Komaroff, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Increase weight-bearing movement. Weight-bearing activities place pressure on your bones, which help stimulate bone formation. Examples of good activities to add to your routine are stair climbing, walking, hiking, and even dancing.
Get enough calcium and vitamin D. Both work together to keep bones strong. The National Academy of Medicine’s recommendations for adults call for 1,200 milligrams (mg) per day of calcium after age 50 and 600 international units (IU) daily of vitamin D until age 70 and then 800 IU afterward. Food is the best source for both. One cup of milk has about 300 mg of calcium and 100 IU of vitamin D, and one cup of plain yogurt has more than 350 mg of calcium. Approximately 6 ounces of fatty fish, like mackerel, tuna, or salmon, contains more than 600 IU of vitamin D. You also might need supplements to ensure you get adequate amounts, so speak with your doctor.
Take medication as needed. A class of drugs known as bisphosphonates can help treat osteoporosis in men. They reduce the risk for hip, wrist, and spine fractures and cause few side effects when taken properly.
Ask about testosterone therapy. It’s not clear what kind of direct effect the testosterone hormone has on bone building, but your doctor can advise whether this may be an option if you have low levels.