This is the medical term for ‘brittle bone disease’and affects women more than men. It is caused by low levels of bone density which are attributed to a falling oestrogen levels during the menopause.

Most women fear osteoporosis and view it as a debilitating condition. Their biggest fear is sustaining a fracture such as a broken hip which can be fatal in the elderly.

The most fractures are hip, wrist and

What causes osteoporosis?

Bones renew themselves through a constant process called ‘bone turnover’which enables them to remain strong and healthy. This reaches an optimum level in adulthood but starts to slow down towards the end of your 20’s.

Bone density reduces after this age. The bones become less strong and prone to disease or fractures.

Osteoporosis can occur in both sexes but greater numbers of women are affected which is due to the female hormone oestrogen.

Oestrogen performs a range of vital functions in the body which includes building strong, healthy bones but this function is lost once hormone levels start to fall.

This fall in hormones occurs in the premenopause and menopause stages which increases the risk of osteoporosis in the postmenopausal stage.

This risk is even greater form women who experience an early menopause, have undergone a hysterectomy at an early age or have experienced amenorrhea (missed periods) as a result of excessive weight loss and/or exercise.

Do men suffer from osteoporosis?

Men can develop osteoporosis but there are far less of them as compared to women. As a result of this it is often viewed as a ‘woman’s disease’ but men are not completely exempt from osteoporosis.

The reasons why more women than men develop osteoporosis are due to the fact that women have a smaller and lighter skeleton than men. Plus the hormone oestrogen protects their bones until the menopause.

Once they reach the menopause they then lose this protection which means that their bones become less dense and prone to breakage.

Men have a heavier skeleton plus their bone degeneration starts later and progresses more slowly than for women.

Another reason is that men are often more active than women and engage in sports and other physical activities to a greater extent than women. They are more likely to do weight bearing exercises such as resistance training, running and football, all of which improve fitness levels and build strong, healthy bones.

This stands them in good stead later on in life.

What are the risk factors for osteoporosis?

For women the menopause is the main risk factor as this means a drop in protective hormones such as oestrogen which results in an increased risk of brittle bones and fractures.

Other factors include:

  • Family history of osteoporosis
  • Absence of menstrual periods for 6 months or longer
  • Being underweight/excessive weight loss
  • Excess alcohol consumption
  • Smoking
  • Long periods of inactivity, e.g. accident or chronic illness
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Long term steroid use, e.g. steroid treatment for arthritis
  • Side effects of medication, e.g. certain types of drugs for breast cancer
  • Small frame/skeleton
  • Lack of calcium in the diet

Bone health is important and is determined by your genes, lifestyle and gender. Gender is the main factor and unfortunately, this is where women do tend to lose out.

The main reason for that is the menopause.

If you are a woman reading this then you may aggrieved at this state of affairs; but whilst your genes and lifestyle influence your bone health there are steps you can take to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and possible fractures.

Reducing the risk of osteoporosis

A healthy diet which is rich in calcium and regular exercise will help. Try to do a weight bearing exercise such as running/jogging, dancing, swimming and walking. Skipping and aerobics are equally as useful as is any form of exercise which requires you to support your weight.

If you have not exercised for some time then speak to your GP before you embark upon an exercise programme.

Ensure that you get plenty of Vitamin D –both from your diet and via exposure to sunlight. Take a supplement if necessary.

Aim for a moderate alcohol intake and stop smoking (if you are a smoker).

For more information visit our menopause self help section.

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