Osteoporosis is one of the most common conditions affecting the U.S population, with approximately 10 million people suffering from the disease. With such a high occurrence of this condition among women, it is often thought as a women’s disease among the general population and some physicians. However, approximately 2 million of the 10 million sufferers of osteoporosis are men.
Osteoporosis is a condition characterized by low bone mass and structural deterioration causing bones to become porous, weak and brittle. This can lead to an increased risk of bone fractures, especially in the spine, hip and wrist, although any bone can be affected.
A recent U.S. study published in the June issue of the journal Osteoporosis International concluded that men that suffer bone fractures are undertreated when compared to women. Only one in every six men who had a hip or spine fracture were treated with osteoporosis medications to strengthen their bones, according to Dr. Thomas J. Weber, an assistant professor of medicine at Duke University Medical Center. The study also noted that just 1.1% of men who were treated for a serious fracture at a hospital received a bone density test to evaluate their overall risk of osteoporosis. Dr. Weber notes “Now, doctors wouldn’t hesitate to do that for a woman, but it seems we just don’t think of it in terms of men.”
Early in life, more bone is added than is removed, and an individual’s peak bone mass is typically achieved around the age of 30. After peak bone mass is reached, the remodeling process (the process of laying down new bone and removing old bone) takes away more bone than is replaced, making the bones more prone to osteoporosis and subsequently to fracture. Since the hormone estrogen is a key component to maintaining bone strength, bone loss increases when women reach menopause and their estrogen levels decrease. Since women have less bone mass than men to begin with, it is a major contributor to the amount of osteoporosis occurrences, with 80% of sufferers being women. Among men, low testosterone levels can also cause a loss of bone mass. Along with these major contributors to osteoporosis, there are many other risk factors to consider such as low calcium intake, tobacco usage, sedentary lifestyle, excessive alcohol consumption and family history.
Men should be concerned about osteoporosis despite the lower occurrence in the gender. Osteoporosis fracture prevention steps recommended for men are stopping smoking and heavy drinking, taking calcium and vitamin D supplements, and exercise. Exercise, especially those focused on balance like Tai Chi, can reduce the risk of falls and fractures.