Osteoporosis has always been a threat to women—it afflicts 8 million females in the US. But this bone-thinning disorder is rapidly becoming recognized as a serious public health issue among men as well. In fact, more than 2 million men may be at risk for osteoporosis and bone fractures, according to the National Institutes of Health. And 6% of them over age 50 will experience a hip fracture resulting from the disease.
“Osteoporosis may not affect men as often as women, but the risk for men increases with age. And risk factors are similar to those of women,” says Pamela Taxel, MD, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University of Connecticut Health Center in East Hartford, Connecticut. Dubbed a silent disease, osteoporosis often exhibits no symptoms until a bone fracture occurs, making early detection crucial.
Hormones and Bone Loss
New bone constantly replaces old. More bone is produced than removed during childhood, enabling the skeleton to grow. Bone mass peaks for most people during their 30s and then the process reverses itself; the amount of bone begins to decline slowly as the removal of old exceeds the formation of new.
Female hormone production drops rapidly at menopause, a condition associated with increased bone loss. Hormonal changes in men occur much more slowly. For example, after the age of 40, testosterone levels decline about 1% a year but typically remain unnoticeable until after age 60. “Decreased testosterone may accelerate bone loss,” says Judith Stanton, MD, medical director of the California Healing Institute in Albany, California.
Women lose bone more rapidly than men up until after age 65, when rates equal out. The absorption of calcium, a crucial bone nutrient, also decreases in both sexes. Excessive bone loss increases the fragility of bones resulting in fractures, most typically of the hip, spine and wrist, and may be permanently disabling. “Women [with osteoporosis] begin to get spine fractures in their late 50s, while it’s about 10 years later for men,” Taxel says. Osteoporosis also appears later in men because it takes longer to develop in their larger skeletons.
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