Dear Savvy Senior,
Can men get osteoporosis or is it primarily a problem for women? When I fell and broke my wrist last winter the doctor that treated me told me I might have osteoporosis, but I never got it checked. What can you tell me? — Bony Bill
Many people think osteoporosis is a woman’s disease, but men can get it too, especially in their later years. Here’s what you should know.
Osteoporosis in men
Osteoporosis is a disease that causes the bones to become weak and brittle and more susceptible to fractures. Though women are four times more likely to acquire it, around 2 million American men have osteoporosis today, and another 12 million have “pre-osteoporosis,” or osteopenia.
Unfortunately, men are much less likely than women to get the health of their bones checked even after they break a bone. That’s because doctors are often unaware of the many factors that put men at risk of osteoporosis.
While menopause is a major component that accelerates bone loss in women, some of the key risk factors for men developing osteoporosis include: being over age 70; being thin or underweight; smoking; consuming more than three alcoholic drinks a day; having a parental history of osteoporosis; and having a previous fracture.
Certain health conditions — such as rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, testosterone deficiency, hyperthyroidism, COPD, kidney or liver disease, and mobility disorders like Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis or stroke — can also increase your risk. So can taking certain medications like anti-inflammatory steroids, prostate cancer drugs, proton pump inhibitors for GERDs, antidepressants, immunosuppressants and anti-seizure drugs.
To help you determine your risk of osteoporosis, the International Osteoporosis Foundation has a quick online quiz you can take at RiskCheck.IOFBoneHealth.org.
A good first step in preventing and treating osteoporosis is to get screened. All men over age 70 should have a bone density test, and those who’ve had a fracture or have other risk factors should be tested after age 50. Screening for osteoporosis is a simple and painless bone density test, which takes about five minutes. Many health insurance companies will cover bone density tests, as does Medicare.
Here’s what else you can do to protect your bones.
Boost your calcium: The best way to get bone-building calcium is through your diet. Dairy products (low-fat milk, cheeses and yogurt), dark green leafy vegetables (broccoli, kale, collards), sardines and salmon, cooked dried beans, soy foods, almonds and fortified cereals and juices are all good sources of calcium. Vitamin D is also important to help your body absorb calcium.
The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends 1,000 mg of calcium daily for men under 70, and 1,200 mg for those over 71. They also recommend 800 to 1,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D if you’re over 50. If you’re not getting enough vitamin D through sunlight or food, consider taking a supplement. Most daily multivitamins contain at least 400 IU.
Exercise: Weight-bearing exercises like walking, and strength training with weights or resistant bands three or four times a week, can significantly improve your bone health and reduce the risk of a fall that could cause a fracture.
Control these vices: Avoid smoking, limit alcohol to no more than two or three drinks per day and limit caffeine (coffee, tea or caffeinated soda) to three cups a day.
Consider medications: The same drugs to treat osteoporosis in women have also been approved for men. The most widely prescribed for osteoporosis are bisphosphonates, a class of drugs designed to slow or stop bone loss. Talk to your doctor about these and other medication options, as well as potential side effects.
Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.