Osteoporosis: A Woman’s Disease Only? We are fearfully and wonderfully made.
A Woman’s Disease Only?
By Peter N. Landless and Allan R. Handysides
I am 64 years old and have been faithfully taking my wife for her annual bone mineral density screening tests. She tells me that men are also at risk for osteoporosis. Is this true? I thought this disease affected only women.
We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Although bones may appear to be static and unchanging, there is continual production of new bone and breakdown of old bony tissue. This dynamic process is ongoing and keeps the bones strong and healthy. Osteoporosis occurs when bones become more porous and thinner. The density and quality of bones are reduced, and they become more fragile.
Osteoporosis affects not only women but men as well. Individuals at highest risk are Asian and Caucasian women following menopause. Much greater emphasis has been placed on the screening and treatment of women, although there are data to show that men who sustain a hip fracture are two to three times more likely to die within the year following hip fracture than are women. These data havenencouraged the consideration of screening tests for men who have an increased risk for osteoporosis.
It is important to know your risk of developing osteoporosis. This is especially so for men, in whom it is often missed. Age is the most consistent risk factor; another is a history of bone fractures after the age of 50 years. Certain endocrine disorders and conditions add to the risk of osteoporosis, including low levels of testosterone, as do overactive thyroid and parathyroid glands. Inflammatory bowel disease and celiac disease (gluten intolerance) may increase the risk of osteoporosis. Prolonged use of corticosteroids can cause thinning of the bones. An additional risk factor for men occurs during treatment for prostate cancer, which often targets the reduction of androgen (e.g., testosterone) hormones. Regular alcohol use adds to the risk of osteoporosis, as does the use of tobacco.
Other markers of increased risk include low body weight and loss of height. This is something we tend to ignore but should not. It is also important to be aware of one’s family history as this in itself may point to increased risk.
In this column we often talk about the importance of exercise and staying healthy. Inactivity is an important risk factor in the development of osteoporosis. Whether it is for the health of the brain, the heart, or even the bones, exercise plays an important role in keeping us healthy and well! It has been stated that exercise is the single most important factor that affects longevity. Maybe we should just do it!
Yes, osteoporosis affects both men and women. Men with risk factors should have regular bone mineral density (BMD) and dual X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scanning. This testing helps to assess risk, as well as the effectiveness of treatment. Additional general preventive measures include taking 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily (green vegetables such as kale and broccoli, low-fat dairy products); 1,000 IU of vitamin D daily; and daily exercise, which includes walking and weight training. Your physician may recommend medications such as bisphosphonates, which slow the breakdown and thinning of the bones.
Be sure to discuss your risk with your health-care providers. They will be able to guide your screening and treatment, if needed.
Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department.
Allan R. Handysides, a board-certified gynecologist, is a former director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department.