Though it’s often thought of as a women’s disease, the National Osteoporosis Foundation reports that approximately two million American men have osteoporosis and 12 million more are at risk.
Causes of Osteoporosis in Males
1. Loss of bone mass.
Men and women typically reach peak bone mass in their early 20s. As mid-life begins, both men and women see a decline in bone mass, with women typically losing bone mass at a faster rate owing to menopause. But by the age of 65, men lose bone mass at a similar rate to that of women. Calcium absorption, which is essential for strong and healthy bones, also declines with age. This, unfortunately, can lead to excessive bone loss and an increased risk of fracture from falling. To lower your risk, aim to take in 1,200 mg of calcium per day by eating calcium-rich dairy foods, leafy greens and some fish.
2. Long-term use of prescription medication.
Osteoporosis has been linked to long-term use of certain medications. Among these are some anti-clotting and anti-seizure medications as well as Cortisone and Prednisone. Men taking oral glucocorticoids or receiving androgen deprivation therapy as part of their treatment for prostate cancer are also at an increased risk for osteoporosis. In fact, Dr. Kevin McLeod, an internal medicine specialist in Vancouver, B.C. recommends individuals avoid taking “medications that can lead to bone loss unless they’re deemed absolutely necessary by a physician.”
3. Testosterone deficiency.
Though some sources contend that testosterone deficiency is the main cause of male osteoporosis, not everyone in the medical community is convinced. “It’s not fair to say that the most common cause of male osteoporosis is related to testosterone deficiency,” adds McLeod, citing age as the most common reason followed by genetic risk and prescription medication use.
“We all have different hormone levels,” he explains. “The hormone has to bind to a receptor and tell other hormones what to do. If, say, one person has a testosterone level of 10 and another person has 30, the latter isn’t automatically better off bone wise. In fact, some studies show taking a testosterone supplement helps while other studies show it makes no difference to bone density or fracture risk.”
How To Detect Osteoporosis in Men
Osteoporosis is often called a silent disease because it progresses without any noticeable symptoms until a bone fracture takes place. Fortunately, there are things you can do to manage your risk. A DXA (dual X-ray) bone density test can detect osteoporosis preemptively and predict your chances of suffering bone fractures in years to come. The test is painless and takes only about 10 minutes.
Dr. E. Michael Lewiecki, who serves as director of the New Mexico Clinical Research and Osteoporosis Center, points to the National Osteoporosis Foundation’s recommendation as a good guideline to follow. It states that “all men 70 years and older [should] have a bone density test, and men aged 50 to 69 with risk factors for fracture [should] also have a bone density test,” adding that, “any man over the age of 50 who has had an adult-age fracture should [also] have a bone test.”
While there is no cure for osteoporosis, there are things you can do to prevent it, slow or stop its progress, and even improve bone density. Not surprisingly, exercise and nutrition play a significant role in preventing osteoporosis in both men and women. Regular weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening activities, together with an adequate intake of dietary calcium and vitamin D are universal recommendations.
Long regarded as an inescapable result of aging, the disease’s current outlook is not so fatalistic. Many medical experts now believe that osteoporosis is largely preventable with lifestyle changes.