Protect Your Bones from Osteoporosis
When a person has osteoporosis, their bones are weakened and can break easily. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), osteoporosis is much more common in women than in men. Nearly 19% of women over the age of 50 have the disease, compared to slightly more than 4% of men1.
Some women have a higher risk of developing osteoporosis than others. Learn more about the risk factors for the condition and what you can do to prevent it.
What Is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a disease of the bones. It occurs when the body loses bone tissue or when the body doesn't make enough bone. As the disease progresses, it becomes more and more likely that a bone will break, limiting mobility and causing pain.
The condition can often be silent, meaning it has few, if any, symptoms. Often, it's the leading cause of fractures in women after menopause2.
Bone loss can occur for a few reasons. If a person doesn't take in enough calcium in their diet, the body will take calcium away from the bones, sending it to other areas of the body to help the nervous system, heart and muscles function. As people get older, the body no longer produces bone tissue quickly. It might pull more calcium from the bones than can be easily replaced3.
What Are Risk Factors for Osteoporosis?
Women are more likely to get osteoporosis than men. About 80% of all people in the U.S. with the condition are women3. In addition to being a woman, some other factors can increase your risk for the disease.
Your body size and composition put you at an increased risk for osteoporosis. Women who have slender body frames and who naturally have smaller bones are at an elevated risk for bone loss, particularly as they get older.
Your life stage can also influence your risk of osteoporosis. Women who are past menopause have a higher risk for the disease, as their bodies are producing less estrogen. Women who are experiencing amenorrhea, or stopped periods, also have a higher risk for osteoporosis. Taking certain medications, smoking and drinking excess amounts of alcohol can also increase the risk for osteoporosis3.
What You Can Do to Prevent Osteoporosis
Although osteoporosis is a disease that often affects older women, preventing it should start in a person's early years. Some things you can do from a younger age to help reduce the risk of developing the disease later on include:
- Get more physical activity: Being physically active, especially adding weight-bearing exercises to your workout routine, can help to strengthen your bones and reduce the risk of bone loss. If you're not currently active, it's a good idea to speak with your family doctor to learn more about the best types of exercises to do to reduce your risk.
- Cut back on alcohol: Alcohol can hurt your bones. If you drink more than the recommended amount of alcohol (one drink per day for women), you can increase your risk of developing bone loss. Cutting back to one drink a day or even less can help. If you need help cutting back on drinking, your family physician can provide resources and guidance.
- Eat calcium-rich foods: Calcium is a mineral your body needs but doesn't produce on its own. Fortunately, many foods are high in calcium, including dairy products and leafy green vegetables. In addition to eating foods with calcium, also make sure you get enough vitamin D in your diet, as the two go hand in hand when it comes to producing healthy bones. If your levels of vitamin D are low, your doctor might prescribe a supplement.
- Make other lifestyle changes: Making other adjustments to your lifestyle, such as quitting smoking, can help lower your risk of osteoporosis. If you have a medical condition, such as diabetes or lupus, that increases your risk of osteoporosis, talk to your doctor about what you can do to control the condition while protecting the health of your bones.
If you're concerned that you might have bone loss and not know it, your doctor can order a bone density test to evaluate the condition of your bones. The test is usually recommended for women over age 65 but might be appropriate for younger women who meet certain conditions. To learn more, talk to your healthcare provider.
1. Osteoporosis Fast Stats, CDC, https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/osteoporosis.htm
2. Osteoporosis Overview, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/osteoporosis/overview
3. Osteoporosis, Women's Health, https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/osteoporosis