Osteoporosis is often thought of as a women’s disease, as it is particularly common after menopause. The reality is osteoporosis also affects men. Although fragility fractures are less common in men, when they occur, these fractures can be associated with higher rates of disability and death than in women.

Overall, 1 in 5 men over the age of 50 will have an osteoporosis related fracture. This is greater than the likelihood of developing prostate cancer.

What causes osteoporosis in men?

Osteoporosis also affects menDuring childhood, more bone is produced than removed, so the skeleton grows. For most people, bone mass peaks during young adulthood. By this age, men typically have built more bone mass than women. After this point, the amount of bone in the skeleton begins to decline, as removal of old bone exceeds formation of new bone.

Men in their fifties do not experience the rapid loss of bone mass women do in the years following menopause. By age 65 or 70, however, men and women are losing bone mass at the same rate, and the absorption of calcium decreases in both sexes. Excessive bone loss causes bone to become fragile and more likely to fracture.

Some research suggests because men are frequently older than women when they experience their first fracture, they are more likely to suffer from suffer serious consequences or death.

Risk factors for osteoporosis

The following risk factors are associated with osteoporosis in men:

  • Prolonged exposure to certain medications, such as steroids used to treat asthma or arthritis, anticonvulsants, certain cancer treatments and aluminium containing antacids
  • Chronic diseases that affect the kidneys, lungs, stomach, intestines and hormone levels
  • Undiagnosed low levels of the sex hormone testosterone
  • Lifestyle habits such as:

◦ Smoking

◦ Excessive alcohol consumption

◦ Poor diet

◦ Lack of physical exercise

Reduce the risk of fracture

  • Eat a balanced diet rich in the essential nutrients
  • Weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, tennis and jogging, assists in maintaining bone density and muscle strength, coordination and flexibility and reduce the risk of falls. Resistance training and lifting weights may help maintain bone density.
  • If osteoporosis is diagnosed, certain treatments can be prescribed to assist with maintaining and restoring bone health.

Treatments for men

Only a handful of osteoporosis treatments have been approved for use by men – few treatments have been subjected to the lengthy trials required specifically for males. At present the best studied treatment for men is from the bisphosphonate drug group, alendronate.

There is evidence also for other medications such as risedronate and etidronate and the bone building drug parathyroid hormone.

Testosterone increases bone density in men with low levels of this male hormone.

For further information about osteoporosis and men, see the IOF report  Osteoporosis in Men: The 'Silent Epidemic' strikes men too