May was National Osteoporosis Awareness Month. Osteoporosis is a condition where bones gradually thin and weaken. It is common among older adults of all genders—yet many people mistakenly believe that it’s only a health concern of women. It’s true that more women than men develop the disease, but men are not immune.
This misconception can lead to many men to miss out on diagnosis and treatment of the disease, leaving them vulnerable to fractures, disability and even early death. Consider these facts:
- Osteoporotic fractures affect 20% of men over the age of 50.
- About 20 – 25% of hip fractures occur in men, and men are twice as likely to die after a hip fracture compared to women.
- Men who sustain a fracture are at higher risk of subsequent broken bones than are women.
- The lifetime risk of an osteoporotic fracture in men over the age of 50 years is 27%, higher than the lifetime risk of developing prostate cancer (11.3%).
- Bone loss in women accelerates after menopause, but according to the National Institutes of Health, by age 65 or 70, men and women are losing bone mass at the same rate.
Osteoporosis can be treated effectively if it is detected before significant bone loss has occurred. Yet despite today’s greater awareness of osteoporosis in men, both the testing and treatment of the disease among male patients is “strikingly low,” according to a study published in the Journal of Investigative Medicine.
“It isn’t clear why older men in the US don’t get screened and treated for osteoporosis,” the study authors said. “It might be that clinicians aren’t aware of osteoporosis screening guidelines for men, or that busy doctors prioritize other illnesses in clinic. We believe that there is a need for developing strategies to improve the evaluation and management for all older men, particularly among elderly men with a very high risk of fracture.”
With age being one of the top risk factors for osteoporosis, older men should consider getting tested for osteoporosis during their annual checkups, particularly if they have other risk factors, such as:
- Low levels of testosterone
- Chronic diseases the affect the kidneys, joints, lungs, stomach or intestines
- Small body frame
- Use of certain prescription drugs, such as corticosteroids (including prednisone)
- Excessive alcohol use
- A sedentary lifestyle
If the diagnosis is osteoporosis, or osteopenia (low bone mass that has not yet progressed to osteoporosis), treatment is available and may include lifestyle changes, improved nutrition, and certain medications.
Here are steps men can take at any stage of life to protect bone health:
- Stop smoking, and limit alcohol intake to no more than two drinks per day. Alcohol and tobacco weaken bones, and drinking alcohol raises the risk of dangerous falls.
- Get enough of the right kind of exercise. Staying active encourages bone growth and strengthens muscles to protect the bones. Seniors who have osteoporosis should consult their healthcare provider before beginning an exercise program. Certain types of exercises are most beneficial; others may actually be dangerous.
- Maintain a healthy weight safely. Being underweight raises the risk of osteoporosis. On the other hand, excess abdominal fat is also detrimental to bone health. Medically supervised weight loss is best, as prolonged weight loss diets may cause the dieter to lose bone right along with the weight.
- Get the recommended amount of calcium and Vitamin D in your diet. Good sources of calcium include dairy products, dark leafy green vegetables, dried beans, canned sardines and salmon, sesame seeds, tofu, tortillas and soy flour.
Calcium supplements might be recommended, but experts remind older men that just popping a calcium pill won’t help. “Calcium plays a larger role when bones are still developing,” said University of Mississippi professor Martha Ann Bass. “After that, the body begins to rely on weight-bearing exercise to keep bones strong. It really does boil down to use it or lose it.”
Source: IlluminAge AgeWise, with information from the National Institutes of Health, the Journal of Investigative Medicine, American Society for Bone and Mineral Research and University of Mississippi