Osteoporosis is a bone disease. It causes you to lose too much bone, make too little bone, or both. This condition makes bones become very weak and puts you at risk of breaking bones during normal activity.

Something like bumping into something or a minor fall could cause fractures. People who don’t have osteoporosis are unlikely to break bones in those situations. When you have osteoporosis, especially in advanced cases, even a sneeze can break bones.

In the United States, nearly 30 million people either have osteoporosis or are at risk for developing it, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. They say that an additional 34 million Americans are at risk of developing osteopenia, or low bone mass. Osteopenia can also lead to fractures and is often caused by osteoporosis.

While it’s not possible to predict whether or not you will develop osteoporosis, there are some characteristics and behaviors that increase the risk. Some of these can be addressed and changed while others cannot.

There are risk factors for osteoporosis that you can control. These include:


Dietary habits can increase one’s risk of developing osteoporosis. Luckily, this is a risk factor that can be controlled. A diet without enough calcium and vitamin D can contribute to weak bones.

Calcium helps build bone and vitamin D aids in maintaining bone strength and health.

Dairy products are high in calcium and some nondairy products have added calcium. People can also get calcium from supplements, but experts recommend getting as much calcium as possible from food first.

Vitamin D is naturally available in fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna, and is added to milk, soymilk, and some cereals. Your skin also makes vitamin D from sunlight. But because of skin cancer risk, many people need to get vitamin D from other sources.

People also use supplements to meet their vitamin D requirements but should be careful that they aren’t getting too much because many other supplements contain this vitamin.

Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins and minerals, such as potassium and vitamin C that can help bones stay strong.

A lack of foods that contain these nutrients can negatively affect bone density and lead to poorer health in general. People with anorexia nervosa may develop osteoporosis because of their severely restricted diet and lack of nutrient intake.


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

  • hiking
  • dancing
  • running
  • muscle strengthening exercises like lifting weights

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

Cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption

Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol excessively can increase your risk for osteoporosis. Research indicates that cigarette smoking may lead to bone loss and an increased risk of fracture. Smoking can be especially problematic when it occurs along with low weight, low physical activity, and poor diet.

Changes in hormones caused by smoking might alter the activity and function of bone cells as well. The good news is, the effects of smoking on bone health seem to be reversible, which means quitting can help.

Too much alcohol can cause bone loss and contribute to broken bones but low levels of alcohol may be beneficial. One drink a day for women and two for men has been linked to better bone density.

However, most experts don’t recommend beginning to drink for the possible health benefits. The health risks involved with drinking can be extreme and the same benefits can usually be achieved through other means, such as diet or exercise.

When it comes to negative effects on bone health, chronic alcoholism (consuming 10 to 20 drinks a day) is associated with low bone density, impaired bone cell activity, and issues with metabolism that also reduce bone health.


Certain medications and medical conditions can put you at risk for developing osteoporosis. These can include long-term oral or injected corticosteroids, such as prednisone and cortisone. Certain antiseizure and cancer medications have also been associated with osteoporosis.

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.

If you are taking any medications or supplements, talk with your doctor about the side effects and risks of the drugs. Ask how your bone health may be affected and what steps you can take to offset any negative effects.

Other risk factors

There are characteristics that can increase your risk of developing osteoporosis you can’t control. These risk factors include:

  • being female
  • age (risk increases as people age)
  • body frame (smaller, thinner people have less bone mass to begin with)
  • ethnicity (people who are Caucasian or of Asian descent have the greatest risk)
  • family history of the condition

These cannot be changed, but being aware of them can help you and your doctor keep a closer eye on your bone health.

Osteoporosis can be a debilitating condition. There is no way to completely prevent it, but there are risk factors that you can be aware of.

By knowing what factors increase the likelihood of developing osteoporosis, you can take steps to reduce your risk and take an active role in building bone health.