Could your husband, brother or friend have osteoporosis and not know it? It isn’t often discussed, but men also get this bone-thinning disease that can lead to fractures and disabilities.
In the past, the focus of osteoporosis has mainly been on women, because menopause reduces estrogen production beginning around age 50, resulting in weakened bones.
What many men do not know is that they also go through hormonal changes that affect their bones. The effects have historically been less of a concern since those changes don't start until their 60s, and men’s life spans were shorter than women’s. That is changing as men are living longer.
“Due to menopause, a woman’s loss of bone happens earlier and more rapidly,” said Mark Greenawald, M.D., with Carilion Clinic Family Medicine. “But men start to lose testosterone around age 60, and it keeps decreasing as they age.”
Dr. Greenawald is co-author of an article on osteoporosis, along with Carilion physicians Michael Jeremiah, M.D., and Brian Unwin, M.D., and Vincent Casiabi, M.D., of Evans Army Community Hospital in Fort Carson, Colorado. The article was published in American Family Physician.
A Growing Concern
More than 10 million Americans have osteoporosis, a progressive disease that makes bones fragile and greatly increases fracture risk. It’s estimated that about 20 percent of them are men, and the number is growing.“Part of the challenge is that we haven’t historically screened men for osteoporosis compared to women,” Dr. Greenawald said. “By the time he’s 60, a man should have a conversation with his physician about his risk factors. When he’s 70, he should at least discuss with his physician whether he should get screened.”
“Men still adhere to the adage, ‘If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,’ ” Dr. Greenawald noted. “I don’t think bone health is on their radar at all.”
For men under 70, risk factors include:
- Having broken a bone due to little or no trauma
- Past use of corticoid steroids
- A history of heavy alcohol use
- Having smoked
- A lifetime of physical inactivity
What can men do to increase their bone strength? Amelia Rode, P.A., focuses on treating osteoporosis and preventing secondary fragility fractures at Carilion Clinic’s Bone Health Clinic. She makes the following recommendations for both men and women to maintain bone health:
- Get adequate calcium and vitamin D
- Do weight-bearing and resistance exercises
- Don’t smoke
- Drink in moderation
If you are diagnosed with osteoporosis, talk to your provider about treatment options that they or the Bone Health Clinic can offer.
No matter your age when you start, caring for your bones is always a good choice. After all, broken bones in later life can lead to loss of mobility, early admission to a nursing home or even early death. And none of us wants that.
See which screenings are recommended for men throughout their lives.