Bone Health

“Your bones are for life. Look after them and they will carry you far.”

- Susan Hampshire

Osteoporosis in men

Do men get osteoporosis?
Women are most at risk for osteoporosis, but what about men?

Osteoporosis is thought of as a women’s disease, and is often underdiagnosed and overlooked in men. But according to The National Osteoporosis Foundation of South Africa, one in five men will develop this disease within their lifetime.

Why osteoporosis in men?

Osteoporosis is associated with decreased bone mass and quality. Although the process of bone loss is not fatal, the medical cost and immobility from fractures can have a significant impact on your life.

Bone loss follows when the fine balance between two processes – depositing new bone tissue and re-absorption of old bone cells – are out of tune. New bone tissue can be deposited too slowly or older bone re-absorbed too rapidly. Osteoporosis in men is the result of a decreased depositing of new bone tissue. The onset is usually in the early 40s when testosterone levels may start decreasing.

According to Dr Magda Conradie, a consultant at the Tygerberg Hospital Metabolic Unit, osteoporosis in women can be linked to increased re-absorption of bone tissue from decreased oestrogen levels. The onset in men is 10 to 15 years later than in females because men – by mere bulk and heavier frames – have more skeletal bone to lose.

Risk factors

  • Old age. The older you are, the greater your risk. This is most likely due to age-related bone loss
  • Family history. A close relative who has had osteoporosis or an osteoporotic fracture may increase your risk.
  • Inadequate calcium and Vitamin D intake. Calcium is one of the most important nutrients for a healthy skeleton. It is needed to build bone mass and slow age-related bone loss. Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption. A diet lacking in these key nutrients can lead to weakened bones.
  • Low body weight can make fractures more likely thanks to lower amounts of overall bone tissue.
  • Lack of exercise. Regular exercise is essential to maintain healthy bones. A lack can decrease bone density and result in bone loss.
  • Alcohol abuse. Alcohol has a direct toxic effect on bone. More than two alcoholic beverages a day can decrease bone density and strength, and increase the risk for falls and fractures.
  • Smoking lowers intestinal absorption of calcium and other nutrients essential to bone health. It is often associated with alcohol use and a sedentary lifestyle, which are also risk factors for osteoporosis.
  • Hypogonadism is a hormonal disorder marked by low levels of the sex hormone testosterone. Testosterone helps protect bone. Reduced levels can lead to brittle bones, bone loss and fractures.
  • Medications that cause bone loss, like steroids, anti-epileptic drugs, and prostate cancer treatments.
  • A medical condition that affects bone health, e.g. kidney disease, hyperthyroidism and inflammatory bowel disease.

Diagnosis in men
Methods used to diagnose osteoporosis in men include a complete medical history, X-rays, and urine and blood tests. A bone mineral density (BMD) test may also be used to identify and confirm osteoporosis, determine your fracture risk, and monitor how well you respond to treatment.

For accurate diagnosis, it is important to inform your doctor about your risk factors for developing osteoporosis, loss of height, change in posture, a fracture, or sudden back pain.

The earlier bone loss or osteoporosis is detected, the better the condition can be treated and prevented from progressing.

Better your bone health

  • Include calcium and Vitamin D rich foods in your diet. Milk, cheese and fish are good sources.
  • Supplement your diet with calcium and Vitamin D if your dietary intake isn’t adequate.
  • Exercise regularly. Weight-bearing exercises like walking, jogging and weight training are especially good for bones.
  • Reduce your alcohol intake.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Avoid taking bone-toxic drugs. Talk to your doctor about your medication use.
  • Manage underlying causes.


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