Osteoporosis Risk Factors: Fact vs. Fiction

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on August 29, 2019

Osteoporosis is a complicated disease that we’re still learning about. It's easy to get confused about who’s at risk of getting it.

Fiction: Only women need to worry about osteoporosis.

It true that osteoporosis.does affect far more women than men. But men still make up 20% of all cases. That means about 2 million men in the United States have osteoporosis right now. More than 43 million men and women have osteopenia, a condition where your bones thin. It can lead to osteoporosis if not properly treated.

Fiction: Osteoporosis drugs give you everything you need to build strong bones.

The drugs help prevent bone loss, but they don’t always give you the raw materials you need to build bones. Without calcium and vitamin D the drugs can’t do their job. Be sure to eat foods rich in calcium, even if you take medication.

Fact: You should get calcium and vitamin D any way you can.

Whether you get them as a part of your regular diet or through supplements, these essential nutrients are key.

Make low-fat dairy a regular part of your diet. Milk, yogurt, and cheese are all good options. You can also get vitamin D from fortified foods, like cereals and orange juices. Many foods also have protein and other nutrients needed for not just bone health, but for total body health.

If you still aren’t getting enough calcium and vitamin D, then ask your doctor about supplements. But figure out a good routine to make sure you take them every day. Studies show most of us aren’t very good at taking supplements regularly.

Fiction: If you only have osteopenia, not osteoporosis, you don't have to worry about broken bones.

Osteopenia boosts your risk of breaks. It slightly raises the risk in younger postmenopausal women, and it goes up significantly for both genders by their mid-60s.

If your doctor says you have osteopenia, treat it as a warning sign -- a chance to practice good bone health by eating a calcium-rich diet, taking supplements if needed, and getting regular exercise.

Fact: It's never too late to do something about osteoporosis.

There’s a lot you can do to slow the disease and lower your risk of breaks:

Stop smoking, if you smoke. Make sure that you are getting enough calcium and vitamin D. Eat a diet rich in vegetables and fruits and don’t eat too much protein, caffeine, and sodium. Don’t drink too much alcohol. Maintain an active lifestyle.

There are many different osteoporosis drugs. Your doctor can help you decide which are right for you.

Some of these treatments can lower your risk of breaks in your spine by up to 65% and in other places by up to 53%.

Exercise is good, too. Regular weight-bearing exercise can reduce the risk of breaks because it strengthens bones and helps you stay strong, agile, and avoid falls. Check with your doctor before starting to find out which types are safe for you.

WebMD Medical Reference



National Osteoporosis Foundation: "Men and Osteoporosis;" "8 Common Myths about Osteoporosis;" and "Are You at Risk for Developing Bone Disease?"

University of Maryland Medical Center: "What Are the Medications for Osteoporosis?"

International Osteoporosis Foundation: "Osteoporosis Myths."

Ethel Siris, MD, director, Toni Stabile Osteoporosis Center, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, N.Y.; president, the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

Department of Veterans Affairs:  “Screening Men for Osteoporosis: Who & How, 2007.”

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