Osteoporosis – the disease which reduces the body’s bone density, causing brittle bones and leading to fractures and breaks – is commonly associated with older ladies. Whilst this, itself, is a misconception as the disease can also affect younger women, it is more far reaching. It may come as a surprise to learn that 1 in 5 men over the age of 50 in the UK is living with osteoporosis. Furthermore, the majority of these men will be unaware that they have this ‘silent disease’ – which you can neither feel nor see until you break a bone – and are at risk.
Bone mineral density in men increases throughout their childhood and will accelerate greatly during the period of puberty. It is in their third decade that bone density loss begins to occur. Whilst the rate of bone density loss is slower in men than in women, 1 in 8 men over the age of 50 will suffer at least one fragility fracture during their lifetime. And the mortality risk after a hip fracture (a more common occurrence associated with osteoporosis) is twice that compared to women who suffer the same injury.
Men can blame their hormones too!
It is true to say that the causes of osteoporosis in men are far less well researched than the studies undertaken to determine the causes within women. However, what is clear is that men who have a lower level of the male sex hormone, testosterone, are far more likely to be at risk. This is because one of the roles of testosterone within a man’s body is to keep his bones strong and healthy.
Most men will see the levels of testosterone their body produces diminish as they age. This is totally natural. And, of course, as people now live longer, age-related diseases have become more prevalent, meaning that there will be a rise in the number of bone fractures. This is leading to increasing concern in medical circles at the risk osteoporosis poses for injuries and the financial cost it carries now and into the future.
The rise in awareness of prostate cancer in men and the necessity for early detection and treatment, has led some men to have lower levels of testosterone after receiving Androgen Deprivation Therapy (ADT) to treat their prostate cancer.
There are many other conditions which can also cause osteoporosis, including, but not limited to:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Weight loss and weight loss surgery
- Scoliosis (curvature of the spine)
- Digestive disorders (such as Crohn’s and coeliac diseases)
Aside from such conditions, there are other factors which bring with them an increased level of risk for men (as with women) to develop osteoporosis. The main ones are:
- A family history of the condition (and also of hip fractures)
- A body mass index (BMI) of 19 or below
- Having an eating disorder (such as anorexia or bulimia)
- Prolonged use of steroid medicines
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Not taking regular exercise
What can be done to increase levels of protection?
- Ensure a daily recommended intake of the essential mineral Calcium and Vitamin D. If you are taking a supplement to support the levels of these in your daily diet, it is always very important to seek medical advice first as too high a level, particularly of calcium, can be harmful
- Do regular weight-bearing and muscle strengthening exercises
- Do not smoke!
- Limit the amount of alcohol you drink
- Talk to your doctor about your situation and when you should have a bone density test. This is particularly important if you break a bone: don’t simply put it down to ‘bad luck’
- Take a daily sachet of bonebalance, a Food for Special Medical Purposes (FSMP) which will help to rebuild the body’s bone matrix to give strength and flexibility to your bones
Don’t be complacent
It’s becoming more accepted by medics that men carry a real risk of having osteopenia (the thinning of bones that precedes osteoporosis) and could likely develop osteoporosis, especially if they live with one or more risk factors. However, as research remains limited, it can be assumed that osteoporosis in men is underdiagnosed and undertreated. Knowing the risk exists and taking preventative action by looking at lifestyle and dietary changes could make all the difference as, quite clearly, men get osteoporosis too!