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The #1 Cause of Osteoporosis, According to Science   

The bone disease impacts one group in particular.

Osteoporosis is a very common bone disease suffered by up to 54 million Americans, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. What exactly is it, who is more likely to develop it and what is its number one cause?  Here is everything you need to know about osteoporosis. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss this special report: I'm a Doctor and Warn You Never Take This Supplement.           


What Is Osteoporosis?

Shot of a doctor explaining a medical procedure with a model to a senior patient while sitting in her office

"Osteoporosis is a bone disease that is associated with weakened bone and decreases in bone quality that make the bone more likely to fracture, or break," Anika K. Anam, MD, clinical fellow, Endocrinology, Yale School of Medicine, explains to Eat This, Not That.   


What Happens If You Have It?

Elderly stroke, Asian older woman suffer fall.

When you have osteoporosis, you have an increased risk of breaking a bone if you have a minor injury or fall. "If someone has severe osteoporosis, they may even break a bone after sneezing or after falling from a standing height," Dr. Anam explains. 


How Do I Know I Have It?

Woman going through bone density exam.

The majority of people who have osteoporosis go without symptoms until they experience a fracture. "The most common fractures occur in the spine, hip, and wrist," explains Dr. Anam. 

You can find out if you have osteoporosis by getting a bone mineral density test which is done on your hip, spine, and forearm. "The bone density test is fast, painless, and safe. If the bone density test shows osteoporosis or low bone density, your physician may order additional blood or urine tests to see if there is any other medical problem that could be contributing to the bone loss," says Dr. Anam.    


Here Are the Top Contributing Factors

Nurse talking with grandmother and her grandson indoors

Important risk factors for osteoporosis include age, menopause, family history (especially if a parent fractured their hip after age 50), low calcium and vitamin D intake, smoking, and alcohol use, Dr. Anam reveals. Also, having other medical conditions, like chronic liver disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease are risk factors for osteoporosis. Chronic use of steroids also contributes to bone loss.  

There are many hormonal and systemic disorders that can lead to bone loss and osteoporosis. "For example, people with vitamin D deficiency (too little vitamin D), hyperthyroidism (too much thyroid hormone), autoimmune disease (such as rheumatoid arthritis), anorexia nervosa, chronic kidney disease, and gastrointestinal disease (such as chronic liver disease or celiac disease) are at increased risk for low bone density," says Dr. Anam. Some medications are also associated with increasing bone loss, including steroids and drugs used to prevent seizures. 


What Is the #1 Cause

Blood sample for estrogen testing.

Per Dr. Anam, however, the most common cause of osteoporosis is due to the decline in estrogen levels, which occurs during menopause. Therefore, your gender is the most influential factor. Anam reveals that it is estimated that 1 in 3 women over age 50 will experience osteoporosis-related fractures.

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How to Prevent It  

bunch of collard greens

The best way to prevent osteoporosis is prioritizing bone health, reveals Dr. Anam. "You can take several actions to protect your bones, including taking in enough calcium, vitamin D, protein, fruits, and vegetables. While milk is a great source of calcium, there are a variety of calcium-rich foods, such as collard greens, canned sardines with bones, cheese, and yogurt," she explains. Regular exercise, including weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening activities are beneficial. Also, smoking should be avoided and alcohol should be limited.  


What to Do If You Notice Symptoms  

Doctor and senior woman wearing facemasks

If you are concerned about your bone health or if you break a bone, you should speak with your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider will evaluate you with a medical history, physical exam, bone density test, and laboratory tests to determine whether you have osteoporosis or are at increased risk for bone loss and fracture, says Dr. Anam.   

"If you have osteoporosis, your healthcare provider will discuss treatment options for osteoporosis," she says. "The treatment of osteoporosis is multifaceted and includes optimizing calcium and vitamin D intake, exercise, working on reducing your risk of falls, limiting alcohol, and stopping tobacco use." 

Depending on your bone health, medical conditions, and preferences, you and your healthcare provider can choose from several osteoporosis medications. Medications used for osteoporosis treatment include bisphosphonates, hormone replacement therapy, denosumab, teriparatide, abaloparatide, and romosozumab. "Studies have shown that these medications decrease the risk of breaking a bone in both people who have had fractures and also in those with osteoporosis as diagnosed on a bone density test. Typically, the bisphosphonates are often the first choice of medication for most people, but you and your healthcare provider will decide what is best for you," Dr. Anam concludes.  So talk to your healthcare provider, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Leah Groth
Leah Groth has decades of experience covering all things health, wellness and fitness related. Read more about Leah
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