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Causes of Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis can have several causes, some of which are hereditary and some of which come from your lifestyle. Some osteoporosis causes you can't control are:

  • Family History: If someone in your family has or had osteoporosis, you're more at risk.
  • Gender: Women are simply more likely to develop osteoporosis.
  • Ethnicity: White and Asian people are more likely to be affected by osteoporosis than black or Hispanic people, but this does not mean that black or Hispanic people are not at risk.

Learn the basics of osteoporosis and discover how it's treated in our osteoporosis slideshow.

Then there are causes that you can somewhat control but are also partly out of your hands:

  • Estrogen Levels: Estrogen protects bones, so if you have low estrogen levels, you're more at risk for developing osteoporosis. Menopause causes a fast decrease in estrogen levels, which is why if you're a post-menopausal woman, you need to be especially vigilant about your bone health. Women may lose bone at a rate of 4 to 8% per year for several years after their ovaries stop producing estrogen.

    Also, if you've had your ovaries removed, your osteoporosis risk increases because the ovaries produce a lot of your estrogen.

    As a post-menopausal woman or a woman who's had her ovaries removed, you may want to ask your doct estrogen therapy to increase your hormone levels.

    Even if you're a young woman now, years from menopause, you should be thinking about your estrogen levels. Irregular periods can indicate low estrogen levels—and serve as an early warning to take care of your bones. Irregular periods may also result from over-exercising or under-eating, both of which can increase bone loss.

    Men also have estrogen, but for them, it's the testosterone that protects the bones. If they have low levels of sex hormones, they're more at risk.
  • History of Broken Bones: If you've broken bones in the past, you could be more at risk for osteoporosis because the broken bone(s) probably lowered your bone mineral densiry (BMD).
  • Low Body Weight: Petite and small boned women (under 130 pounds) have less bone mass to begin with, so they need to be particularly vigilant about their bone health.

Osteoporosis is also caused by factors that are completely in your control, and this is what makes osteoporosis preventable. In thinking about your bones, you should be considering:

  • Diet: Every day, you should be getting the proper amounts of various minerals and vitamins that promote bone growth. What you eat can have a significant impact on your chances of developing osteoporosis. Some foods promote bone growth, while others may stunt it.

    Calcium: Calcium gives your bones what they need to grow and regenerate. If you don't get enough calcium every day, your bones will be weaker. How much calcium you need varies by how old you are; read this article that explains how much calcium you should get.

    Vitamin D: Calcium needs vitamin D; without it, your body can't absorb and use calcium as effectively. Without enough vitamin D in your diet, some of your calcium intake could be going to waste, adversely affecting your bones. Like calcium, the recommended vitamin D intake changes throughout life.

    Other Vitamins and Minerals: Phosphorous, magnesium, vitamin K, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 are all also important to bone growth. Fortunately, a well-balanced diet (think the Food Pyramid) almost guarantees that you'll be getting enough of these. If you aren't getting enough and want to promote good bone health, you might need to take a supplement.

    Sadly, anyone who had a poor diet growing up, either because of poverty or poor eating habits, may not have gotten enough calcium and other minerals to build strong bones.

    Sometimes, having too much of something in your diet can harm your bones. (Everything in moderation; that's the lesson to learn from this.) You should monitor your intake of:

    • Protein: Yes, you should get the right amount of protein; however, too much protein can actually make you lose calcium.

    • Caffeine: Too much caffeine limits how well your body absorbs calcium. 

  • Exercise: A good workout routine will strengthen your bones, and you should have a mix of weight-bearing exercise (e.g., walking) and strengthening exercises (e.g., weight lifting). However, if you don't exercise, your bones become weaker and osteoporosis can develop.
  • Smoking: Smoking can increase your chances for getting osteoporosis in a few ways—the chemicals make it harder for your body to use calcium, plus they make it harder for estrogen to do one of its jobs and protect your bones.
  • Alcohol: A lot of alcohol—abusing it—can lower your calcium supply and how efficiently your body uses calcium.

Osteoporosis can be caused by a medical condition or medication, and that's called secondary osteoporosis.

Medical conditions that can lead to osteoporosis (not an exhaustive list):

  • Intestinal problems: These can interfere with absorption of calcium and vitamin D, which makes it harder for your body to regenerate bones. Inflammatory Bowel Disease is an example.
     
  • Kidney problems: Kidney issues can cause calcium loss, upsetting the balance of bone loss and growth.
  • Parathyroid and thyroid problems: Hyperparathyroidism causes your body to create too much parathyroid hormone (PTH), and that leads to bone loss. This article has more information about parathyroid disease and osteoporosis.

    Hyperthyroidism puts too much of the thyroid hormone in your body, potentially weakening your bones.
  • Nutrient absorption problems: People with celiac disease have trouble absorbing nutrients like calcium and vitamin D, and without those, it's harder to maintain health bones.

Medications that can lead to osteoporosis (not an exhaustive list):

  • Corticosteroids: Prednisone is a corticosteroid that can cause excessive bone loss.
  • Thyroid hormones: If you have an underactive thyroid, you may need to take medication to increase your thyroid levels. However, you can take too much, which will weaken your bones.
  • Some anti-convulsants or anti-seizure medications: Dilantin is one example.
  • Antacids with aluminum

 

Updated on: 02/24/14
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Exams and Tests for Osteoporosis

There's just one way to confirm an osteoporosis diagnosis: with a bone mineral density (BMD) test. You can also have a BMD test if you might be at risk for osteoporosis. It'll tell you how strong your bones are and your chances for a fracture.
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