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May 2013

Bone Health Isn't Just a Woman's Concern

Many men may rank heart disease as a top health concern. Focused on their hearts, they may ignore or not realize how important bone health is, too. Osteoporosis-a disease that weakens and greatly increases the risk for bone fracture-affects almost 9 million men in the U.S. Even though the condition is more common in women, it may be more harmful in men.

Photo of man smoking a cigarette

A primer on your bones

Man or woman, your bones follow a similar pattern. In childhood and adolescence, the body builds up bone density as you grow. In your early 20s, you reach your peak bone mass-when the amount of bone in your body is at its highest. By your 30s and beyond, your body stops making new bone and starts losing it.

Gradual, age-related bone loss is normal. But if you allow your bones to weaken too much, you may develop osteoporosis. Men are less likely to suffer from osteoporosis because they tend to be bigger in size-hence, they have more bone in their bodies. They also don't go through menopause, when a drop in estrogen increases bone loss. But that doesn't mean men are immune to the disease. More important, they tend to develop osteoporosis later in life.

Like a thief, osteoporosis steals bone without your knowing it; it causes no symptoms. That can be particularly problematic for men. They are less likely to be screened for the disease, so they may not be aware of it until they break a bone. A major concern: hip fractures. Compared with women, men who suffer a broken hip are more likely to die afterward, usually from complications.

Bone-building basics

Certain factors can raise a man's risk for osteoporosis, such as being 70 and older, being white, or having a family history of the disease. Other risk factors include:

  • A drop in the hormone testosterone

  • Chronic diseases that affect multiple parts of the body, including certain cancers, celiac disease, and an overactive thyroid

  • Certain medications, such as anticlotting drugs, steroids, and prostate cancer treatments

  • Unhealthy habits like smoking and excessive alcohol consumption

  • Poor nutrition, including low intake of calcium and vitamin D

The bottom line: Osteoporosis isn't just a women's concern. Any man can develop it. Being smart about bone health can help prevent it, though. Here are some bone-building tips:

  • Be more active. Weight-bearing exercises, in particular-such as walking, running, and lifting weights-are proven bone-strengtheners.

  • Limit alcohol and stop smoking, if needed. People who do either tend to have less bone density.

  • Eat enough calcium. Men should consume 1,000 mg of calcium each day. Those older than 70 should boost that amount to 1,200 mg. Good sources include low-fat dairy products and leafy-green vegetables. If you don't get enough calcium from your diet, your doctor may recommend a supplement.

  • Take in enough vitamin D. It helps the body absorb calcium. Foods fortified with vitamin D include milk, orange juice, and cereal.

  • Talk with your doctor about screening for osteoporosis. Experts disagree on when men should start such screening, but your doctor can help you decide if and when it's appropriate for you.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

May is National Osteoporosis Prevention Awareness Month. Learn more about the disease with this quiz.

Online Resources

Hormone Health Network - Patient Guide to Osteoporosis in Men

Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center - Osteoporosis in Men