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Male Osteoporosis: Bone Mass Matters

20% of people with osteoporosis are men. What causes it, and what can you do about it?
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Causes of Male Osteoporosis: Low Calcium and Vitamin D

Bones continually grow over your lifetime, in a natural process called remodeling, with old bone cells sloughing off and new bone cells growing in to replace them. But to make new bone, your body needs plenty of calcium and vitamin D.

"It's a giant construction project," says Mystkowski. But without enough calcium and vitamin D, you can't build the scaffolding for new bone and replace bone density solidly with calcium and other minerals.

Causes of Male Osteoporosis: Hanging Out, Rather Than Working Out

Your bones continually monitor the mechanical stress you put on them. Bone mass is a use-it-or-lose-it kind of thing, just like muscle. When muscle pulls on bone, the bone responds by growing.

But if you're not exercising, both bone and muscle weaken. A sad truth: The Surgeon General's report found that only about 35% of men aged 25 to 64 met the minimum exercise prescription -- a modest 30 minutes of moderate activity, like brisk walking, on most days of the week.

Studies have shown that exercise boosts bone mass -- but only at the sites of skeletal stress. Walking or jogging can increase bone density in the hips, but weight-lifting won't.

Causes of Male Osteoporosis: Medications That Reduce Bone Mass

A host of medications can lead to bone loss in men, just as they can for women. These "red flag" drugs include:

  • Corticosteroids. These aren't muscle-building "steroids." They're anti-inflammatory steroids that dampen the body's immune response, also known as cortisone, hydrocortisone, glucocorticoids, and prednisone. These drugs, useful for treating everything from asthma to ulcers, can wreak havoc with bone. In one study, doses of prednisone higher than 7.5 mg a day shut down new bone growth completely -- and sped up the normal loss of old bone. 
  • Drugs for prostate cancer. Taking drugs called GnRH agonists, often used for men with prostate cancer, can lead to low bone mineral density (BMD) and a higher rate of fractures. 
  • Antiseizure drugs. These drugs have been associated with bone loss, especially for men who take long-term high doses and don't get enough calcium or vitamin D.

Talk with your doctor about your risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures if you're taking any of these "red flag" drugs. Together, you can weigh these potential risks against the benefits of these drugs for you.

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Osteoporosis Glossary

  • Bone Mineral Density - A measurement of the amount of calcium and minerals in bone tissue.
  • Calcium - A mineral in (and vital to) your bones. If your body lacks calcium, it takes it from bones.
  • DEXA (dual energy X-ray absorptiometry) - a test used to measure bone mineral density.
  • Osteoporosis - A decrease in bone density, which increase the risk of fractures.
  • Vitamin D - A vitamin that helps your body absorb calcium.
  • View All Terms

How do you exercise for strong bones?