What Are the Risk Factors for Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis can be a limiting disease but it's partly preventable. What are the risk factors and how can you change the outcome? Continue reading to find out more about it.
What Are the Risk Factors for Osteoporosis?

Last update: 08 September, 2020

The risk factors for osteoporosis explain its presence in certain population groups. Furthermore, it’s a common disease that can affect both men and women.

The main characteristic of this condition is the decrease in bone mass density and increased skeletal fragility that leads to an increased risk of fractures. Thus, osteoporosis weakens bones and exposes them to injuries that wouldn’t happen in normal bone tissue.

The most common fractures occur in the spine (in the form of compression fractures), the hip, and the wrists. Estimates indicate that more than 53 million people already have the disease or are at high risk of osteoporosis due to low bone mass in the USA alone, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Risk factors for osteoporosis

A fall from a standing height, crashing into something, or even a mild blow can all lead to fractures in a person with a decreased bone density. Not everyone reaches the extreme state of this deficiency, but there are some risk factors that do predispose to osteoporosis. Let’s see what they are.

A diet low in calcium

Eating habits can increase the risk of developing osteoporosis. Thus, a diet deficient in calcium and vitamin D will lead to weak bones. This is because calcium builds bone structure, and vitamin D helps maintain its strength.

Dairy products are rich in calcium, and some non-dairy products contain added calcium. But you can also obtain it from supplements. Ideally, most of your intake of this mineral should be from natural sources, that is, from food.

As for vitamin D, this is available in fatty fish such as salmon and tuna and is also a part of milk and wholegrain cereals. Our skin also manufactures this vitamin from sunlight. In any case, you must avoid overexposure to the sun during the hottest hours.

An array of food rich in vitamin D.
Vitamin D is key to bone development and maintenance.

A sedentary lifestyle

An inactive lifestyle with prolonged rest tends to weaken the bones. The same happens to those who are forced to spend long periods of time in bed due to illness or after surgery.

It’s important to know that bones become stronger with exercise. This is why weight lifting and resistance exercises are best. The best ones are walking, jogging, climbing stairs, playing tennis, dancing, and bodybuilding.


Smoking is bad for your bones as well as your heart and lungs. Women who smoke have lower levels of estrogen compared to non-smokers, and they often go through menopause earlier.

Smokers also absorb less calcium from their diets. When low estrogens are combined with deficient calcium, it becomes impossible for the bone to rebuild any damages due to aging. Thus, smoking is a notorious risk factor for osteoporosis.

Alcohol consumption

Excessive alcohol consumption increases the risk of bone loss and fractures in young women and men. It can lead, in turn, to poor nutrition and an increased risk of falling, not to mention its overall impact on your health.

Alcoholic people are prone to liver failure, cardiovascular disease, and central and peripheral nervous system disorders.

Medication use

Long-term use of certain medications, such as glucocorticoids, aluminum-containing antacids, certain cancer treatments, overdosed thyroid hormone, and some anticonvulsants, can lead to bone density loss and fractures.

Not all medications are risk factors for osteoporosis, but it’s essential that they’re prescribed by doctors after assessing the individual interactions and conditions of their patients. They shouldn’t prescribe a medication that depletes calcium as a side effect. They should exercise caution when prescribing it to a menopausal woman.

Other associated risk factors for osteoporosis

Women have an increased chance of developing osteoporosis just due to their gender. This is because they have less bone tissue in proportion to their bodies and thus lose it faster than men due to their body alterations during menopause.

Also, the risk of osteoporosis increases as we age. All body tissues naturally lose density and become thinner and weaker. This is more noticeable in people with a small body frame.

Similarly, a family history of early or unexplained fractures is a risk factor. One could say it’s a family pathology because some genetic links do explain its appearance in certain people.

A bone density comparison.
People with a small bone structure are more exposed to osteoporosis in their old age.

Change risk factors to prevent osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a condition that severely affects a person’s quality of life. It is impossible to predict the future development of the disease, but one can identify some risk factors with which to prevent it.

You can’t change some of your natural traits such as gender or age. However, you can definitely modify many of your risk factors. For instance, you can adopt a healthier diet, exercise, get some sun exposure, and decrease your consumption of tobacco and alcohol.

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