Osteoporosis Risk Factors

Written by Jaime Herndon | Published on October 20, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Brenda B. Spriggs, MD, MPH, MBA on October 20, 2014

Osteoporosis Risk Factors

Osteoporosis is a bone disease. It occurs if you lose too much bone, make too little bone, or a combination of these. The bones become very weak and you are at risk of breaking bones during normal activity, like bumping into something or a fall that isn’t serious. If you didn’t have osteoporosis, your bones probably wouldn’t break in those situations. With the condition, especially in advanced cases, even a sneeze can break bones.

In the United States, more than 40 million individuals either have osteoporosis or are at risk for developing it due to reduced bone density, according to the National Institutes of Health Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. While it’s not possible to predict whether or not you will develop osteoporosis, there are some risk factors for developing the condition. Some of these can be addressed and changed while others cannot.

Inherited Risk Factors

There are risk factors you are born with that can increase your risk of developing osteoporosis. These cannot be changed, but it’s good to be aware of them. These risk factors include:

  • being female
  • body frame (smaller, thinner women are more at risk)
  • ethnicity (Black and Hispanic women have a lower risk than White women)
  • family history of the condition

Other Risk Factors

Diet

Dietary habits can increase one’s risk of developing osteoporosis. Luckily this is one risk factor that can be minimized.  A diet without enough calcium and vitamin D can contribute to weak bones and osteoporosis. Calcium helps build bone and vitamin D aids in maintaining bone strength and health. Bones can become weak without calcium and vitamin D. Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins and minerals such as potassium and vitamin C, which help keep the body and bones healthy. A lack of these foods can contribute to poor health and negatively affect bone density. People with anorexia nervosa are at risk for osteoporosis because of their severely restricted diet and lack of nutrient intake.

Exercise

An inactive lifestyle can increase your risk for osteoporosis. High-impact exercise can help build and maintain bone mass. Examples of high-impact exercise include:

  • hiking
  • dancing
  • running
  • muscle-strengthening exercise like lifting weights

Your bones don’t become as strong if you are inactive. Inactivity leads to less protection against osteoporosis.

Lifestyle

Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol excessively can increase your risk for osteoporosis. Cigarettes affect bone health and too much alcohol can cause bone loss and contribute to broken bones.

Medications

Certain medications and medical conditions can also put you at risk for developing osteoporosis. If you are on any medications or supplements, talk with your doctor about the side effects and risks of the drugs. Ask about their effect on bone health and what steps you can take to offset any negative effects. Hormone and autoimmune disorders can also increase your risk of developing osteoporosis. If you have a chronic disease or condition, ask your doctor about how it might affect your bone health. They can help you take steps to keep your entire body as healthy as possible.

Outlook

Osteoporosis can be a debilitating condition. There is no way to definitely prevent it, but there are risk factors that you can be aware of. By knowing your risk factors you can take steps to reduce your risk for the condition and take an active role in building bone health. 

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