Men Get Osteoporosis, Too

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Sally Field, once best known as The Flying Nun, is now better known as a celebrity salesperson for osteoporosis drug Boniva.

    Actress Ursula Andress played Honey Ryder in the first James Bond film, 1962’s Dr. No. Now, the original “Bond girl” is the chief spokesperson for Osteoporosis Canada; she held a press conference earlier this month to kick off a new awareness initiative. 

    Female celebrities and osteoporosis: not surprising. Every osteoporosis drug ad you see, every osteoporosis article you read (invariably in a women’s magazine), seems to focus on women. Yet 20% of those suffering from osteoporosis are men. 

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    Attention, sisters: osteoporosis isn’t the sole provenance of women. Men can get osteoporosis, too. And you can help the special men in your life prevent it.

    Are the risk factors for men the same as those for women? Yes, generally. The biggest risk factor, mirroring that of women, is getting older. A small frame; low body weight; lack of sufficient calcium and vitamin D, and physical inactivity are also risk factors common to both men and women.

    A lack of estrogen in women encourages bone loss; and low testosterone levels can spell trouble for men. Men convert some of the testosterone in their body to estrogen; so men with low testosterone levels don’t have as much circulating estrogen in their system, leading to compromised bones.

    And while many female breast cancer survivors are finding that the aromatase inhibitor drugs they take are accelerating their bone loss to a disturbing degree, men on prostate cancer drugs are experiencing the same thing.

    Surprisingly, even young male athletes can fall prey to this “old woman’s disease.” Wrestlers, who diet heavily as part of their sport, may not be consuming enough calcium and calories to keep their bones healthy. Ditto triathletes and long-distance runners, many of whom already are at risk by dint of being small-framed and lean. They can then compound that risk by failing to consume enough calories.

    Add another little-recognized risk factor, binge drinking—excessive alcohol consumption lowers bone density—and you can see why more and more younger men, some as young as college age, are being diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia. 

    The American College of Physicians (ACP) estimated in 2008 that osteoporosis rates for men are expected to rise by 50% in the next 15 years. In addition, osteoporosis in men is often more deadly: twice as many men who break a hip will die within one year of complications, compared to women.

    So what can YOU do to protect your partner, your aging father, or even your son from osteoporosis?

    First, recognize that it’s a threat. Our society focuses so heavily on women and osteoporosis, that too many of don’t realize that it’s a men’s disease, too.

    Second, help men watch their diet. If you’re the chief cook, make sure you’re serving calcium-rich foods: calcium-fortified OJ and cereal for breakfast; low-fat dairy (smoothies, cheese dishes, yogurt), and certain fruits and vegetables.

  • And third, encourage a healthy lifestyle. Go for walks together. Get him to join that old guys’ soccer league, or to be active with friends. Ask him to have no more than alcoholic two drinks a day (which will actually increase his bone density); and to cut out smoking altogether.

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    The ACP’s new guidelines urge physicians to regularly assess men over age 65 for osteoporosis risk, via questions about lifestyle: exercise, diet, and drugs. Men identified as being at risk are advised to have regular DEXA scans, which may result in drug therapy, e.g., bisphosphonates. Boniva, or Fosamax, or Actonel.

    Sound familiar? Guess we’re in the same boat after all.

Published On: March 29, 2009