As women age, their worries turn to health conditions associated with aging, including osteoporosis. Women are known to have a greater osteoporosis risk than men, and once they reach menopause, that risk gets even higher. But both women and men may have osteoporosis risk factors that they may not be aware of, such as related health conditions — which means they may not be taking the necessary precautions to help prevent the condition.
Find out whether certain health conditions or medical treatments may be increasing your osteoporosis risk and what you can do to keep bones strong.
Many health conditions can affect your bones, leaving them weak and more likely to fracture. Here are some health conditions that can contribute to osteoporosis risk:
- Breast cancer Women that have been treated for breast cancer have an increased risk of osteoporosis. Some types of breast cancer treatment can trigger a loss of ovarian function, which results in a drop in estrogen levels. And when estrogen levels drop, bones become thinner and more likely to break.
- Prostate cancer Men with prostate cancer who undergo hormone deprivation therapy are more likely to develop osteoporosis and broken bones. That’s because this treatment inhibits the production of testosterone, and with less testosterone, bone density decreases and bones become more frail and brittle.
- Eating disorders In particular, people with anorexia may experience a variety of nutritional and hormonal issues that can affect bone density. For example, low body weight can cause females to stop producing estrogen, which can trigger amenorrhea, and contribute to a loss of bone density. What’s more, those with anorexia tend to produce excess of the hormone cortisol, which can trigger bone loss. Restricted dietary intake, malnutrition, and calcium deficiency related to anorexia can also increase osteoporosis risk.
- Lactose Intolerance Dairy products are a major source of calcium, and calcium is essential for bone health. Therefore, people with lactose intolerance, who have to avoid dairy, may be at a higher risk for developing osteoporosis — though studies have produced conflicting results. Regardless, if you’re lactose intolerant, it’s important to take steps to build and maintain healthy bones, and find other ways to get enough calcium in your diet.
- Estrogen deficiency Estrogen plays a critical role in building and maintaining bone health. Women with estrogen deficiency, whether due to a condition such as amenorrhea (absent menstrual periods) or menopause, are at a higher risk for osteoporosis.
- Low testosterone Men with low testosterone are at an increased risk for developing osteoporosis, as the hormone testosterone helps to protect against bone loss.
- Over- or under-active thyroid Abnormally high levels of thyroid hormone, known as hyperthyroidism, increases the rate at which bone is lost, though proper treatment can help. Hyperparathyroidism, or the overproduction of parathyroid hormone, can cause your body to release too much calcium, which can trigger a loss of bone density, resulting in bones that are more likely to break. And people with hypothyroidism, or low levels of thyroid hormone, typically take synthetic thyroid replacement — and too much of this medication can result in increased bone loss.
- Celiac disease This condition, which involves gluten intolerance, can prevent the absorption of a number of bone-strengthening nutrients like vitamin D and calcium — increasing your risk for osteoporosis.
- Inflammatory bowel disease Conditions like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, can also increase your osteoporosis risk due to side effects of steroid medications as well as absorption problems.
- Lupus Medication for lupus, particularly steroids, can contribute to bone loss, increasing your risk for osteoporosis. What’s more, symptoms of lupus, like pain and fatigue, can reduce your desire to stay active, further increasing your osteoporosis risk.
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) This type of arthritis has been linked to osteoporosis risk, as glucocorticoid medications used to treat the condition can contribute to significant bone loss. Like with lupus, RA symptoms like fatigue and joint pain can result in inactivity and further contribute to osteoporosis risk.
- Diabetes In particular, type 1 diabetes is another osteoporosis risk factor. It’s not known exactly how or why diabetes affects bone health, though bone loss related to type 1 diabetes may play a role. People with type 2 diabetes don’t seem to experience as much bone loss as people with type 1 diabetes, but they still have a higher risk of fractures than people without diabetes.
- Kidney disease People with chronic kidney disease may also have metabolic bone disease, which can cause fragility fractures, resulting in an increased risk of developing osteoporosis.
- Asthma Long-term use of some asthma medications, like glucocorticoids, can decrease the amount of calcium that’s absorbed from food, increase the amount of calcium that’s lost from the kidneys, decrease bone formation, and increase bone loss. Other asthma medications, like corticosteroids, can interfere with the production of sex hormones in both men and women, resulting in bone loss and even muscle weakness, which can contribute to the risk of falls and fractures. And a fear of exercise can result in avoiding physical activity that can help strengthen your bones.
So whether you’re a healthy woman over the age of 50 who has undergone menopause, a younger woman with regular monthly periods, or even a man, you may want to consider whether other health conditions you have are increasing your risk of developing osteoporosis. Regardless, it’s important to make lifestyle adjustments to help preserve your bones and prevent osteoporosis.