Updated 01 November 2017

Osteoporosis: not only a concern for women

Although osteoporosis is more common in women, it also means that it is severely under diagnosed in men. Could you be at risk?

Statistics in South Africa show that the prevalence of osteoporosis is higher in women than men, especially in women older than 50. It is therefore common that we usually associate osteoporosis with women, and a condition that only women are prone to. But men can also be at risk.

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis literally means ‘porous bones’. It’s a condition where bone tissue progressively degenerates. Often called the ‘silent killer’, osteoporosis can go undetected for many years before being diagnosed. The first sign of the disease is usually a fracture; by then, it’s too late to make up for the loss of bone density.

The body uses calcium stored in the bones to keep all the other organs functioning – more so if you are not eating enough calcium-rich foods to replenish these calcium stores. In someone who has osteoporosis, not enough new bone is formed by the body, or too much of the old bone is reabsorbed. Both these processes can lead to loss of bone density. A hormone imbalance (the lack of oestrogen or testosterone) can also cause bone mass loss.

Severe unawareness among men

Many cases of osteoporosis in men go undiagnosed, due to a misconception that this is a ‘women’s condition. An article previously published on Health24 tapped into the unawareness regarding osteoporosis in men. A survey conducted by the International International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF) and the National Osteoporosis Foundation of South Africa (NOFSA) found that 86% of male and female respondents, and 92% of all male respondents older than 50 either underestimated a man’s risk of suffering a fracture or said they did not know. This was similar to the international average of 90%. This means that thousands of men are still unaware of osteoporosis.

Are you at risk?

According to the NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resources Centre in the US, osteoporosis can be primary, where it’s caused by age-related bone loss, or secondary, where lifestyle and health factors put some people more at risk than other for getting osteoporosis.

The following factors can put men more at risk for osteoporosis:

  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • An inactive lifestyle
  • An unbalanced diet lacking in calcium and vitamin D
  • Medical conditions such as pulmonary disease
  • Certain medications such as drugs for prostate cancer and antiseizure drugs

How can men ensure better bone health?

The recommended daily calcium and vitamin D intake for men between the ages of 19 and 70 is 1000mg and 600 IU, while the intake for men older than 70 is 1200 mg and 800 IU. According to Harvard Medical School, many men don’t get these recommended doses from natural sources such as food. Foods containing calcium and vitamin D include:

  • Dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese
  • leafy greens such as spinach or kale
  • Oatmeal and fortified breakfast cereals

Men can also lower their risk for osteoporosis by:

  • Including strength training in physical activity
  • Ensuring that enough calcium and vitamin D is included in the diet
  • Quitting smoking
  • Moderate alcohol consumption


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