Most people think of osteoporosis, which is a condition characterized by thin, brittle bones, as something that only affects elderly women. However, starting at around age 30 or so, you begin losing bone tissue at a rate that’s faster than what your body can produce. This means that from that point on, you’re actually losing a bit of bone mass each year. This process accelerates in women once menopause takes hold and their estrogen levels begin to drop (usually between the ages of 45 and 55). Men begin to experience greater bone loss when testosterone production begins to slow, which is usually around the ages of 45 to 50. Because women tend to have smaller and lighter bones than men to begin with, women are more prone to developing the condition than their male counterparts. With all of that said, noticeable effects of bone loss aren’t usually experienced until after age 60.
Whether or not an individual will develop osteoporosis depends on several factors, such as the thickness of their bones in their younger years, as well as their overall health, diet, and activity levels. Some of the things that can increase the risk of developing osteoporosis include:
Alcohol use – Heavy alcohol use (more than 2 drinks per day for men, or more than 1 drink per day for women) can decrease bone formation.
Being very thin and/or having a small frame – Individuals who are very thin or have very small body frames are also at increased risk of developing osteoporosis. This risk factor can be exacerbated in female athletes who have stopped menstruating, which happens when body fat levels drop below a certain level. Osteoporosis is also a concern for those individuals who diet excessively or suffer from an eating disorder such as anorexia.
Medical conditions – Certain medical conditions that involve the thyroid and/or parathyroid glands can put an individual at greater risk for developing osteoporosis. In addition, women who have had their ovaries removed prior to menopause are at a greater risk due to the drop in estrogen that occurs during that time. Ovaries produce estrogen, which protects women from bone loss.
Medications – Long-term use of certain medications such as steroids can cause bones to thin.
When it comes to osteoporosis, the best thing you can do is talk with your doctor about any risk factors that pertain to you. There may be certain dietary, lifestyle, or medication changes that can be made to help keep your body strong and healthy. These changes may, in turn, decrease your chances of developing osteoporosis later in life.