Fathers, Sons, Husbands: Should They Worry About Osteoporosis?

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • When you think about osteoporosis, you envision stooped old ladies with a widow’s hump, right? Sadly, osteoporosis affects all of us, from kids to the elderly, women – AND men. This Father’s Day, take a moment to consider whether any of the men in your family are at increased risk for osteoporosis – and what you can do about it.


    Did you know that 20% of Americans suffering from osteoporosis are men?

    No, huh? I didn’t, either, until I started reading up on the subject after my osteopenia diagnosis a few years back.

    When cancer drugs started lowering my T-scores, the word “osteoporosis” became a part of the regular discussions I have with my oncologist.

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    I decided to take Actonel for awhile, then dropped it due to its side effects. I’ve stepped up my exercise, particularly weight-bearing exercise, and have managed to stabilize one set of T-scores, while the other is dropping very gradually – something that might be attributed to age as much as anything else.

    Before all of this, though, I never thought about osteoporosis. I was healthy (aside from the cancer), athletic, ate right, and exercised regularly. There’s no history of osteoporosis in my family; I wasn’t at any apparent risk.

    If I even noticed osteoporosis at all, it was via wading through bisphosphonate drug ads in women’s magazines – all of which pictured handsome older women, their stylishly cut silver hair flying in the breeze as they played tennis, or romped on the beach with their grandchildren.

    Me, osteoporosis? No way. I’m too young.

    And men with osteoporosis? Never knew any. Must be pretty rare, like men with breast cancer.
    Well, not nearly as rare as I thought. About 2 million American men are currently living with full-blown osteoporosis. And about 7 million more have low bone mass, and are well on their way to developing osteoporosis if they don’t make some lifestyle changes.

    That’s nearly 10 million American men who are, or should be, dealing with osteoporosis as a significant health risk.

    Is your husband, father, or son one of them?

    First, how would you know?

    Well, osteoporosis risk factors for men are the same as those for women. Growing older is the number one risk; followed by a small/slight frame and/or low body weight; lack of exercise, particularly weight-bearing exercise; and insufficient calcium and vitamin D levels.

    And how about symptoms? Osteoporosis is notorious for being a “symptomless” disease; the first sign for many victims that they have bone disease is a fracture – often a serious spinal or hip fracture.

    As far as outward signs go, there’s one thing you can look for in older men: “shrinking” – your husband or dad isn’t as tall as he once was. His yearly physical pegs him at ½” shorter than he was the year before. If that’s the case, he should be discussing possible osteoporosis screening – a DEXA scan – with his doctor.

    Two more risk factors, ones that can affect both old and younger men, are smoking and drinking.

  • Both alcohol and tobacco impair the ability of bone cells to do their job. The regular cycle of remodeling, where old bone cells are shed and new ones develop, is thrown out of balance. The result? Lowered bone mass, and weakened bones.

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    And what about diet and exercise?

    Your husband may think he’s doing himself a favor by drinking a six-pack of diet cola to lower his daily calorie count; but carbonated beverages, especially colas, have been shown to negatively affect bone health.

    Instead of soda, encourage your whole family – not just the men – to drink calcium-fortified orange juice (cut with plain water, if calories are a real concern). Offer yogurt-based fruit smoothies, as well. Stock up on calcium-fortified breakfast cereal.

    There are actually lots of easy ways to add calcium to your diet; as the probable cook in the family, know what they are, and use them.

    And as for exercise, encourage any couch potatoes you know to start by turning off the TV, going outside, and taking a walk around the block. Or doing yard work – how about mowing the lawn? (No, a riding mower doesn’t count!)

    Help your guy find a gym or playground where he can enjoy a game of pickup basketball. Get him to join a workout center and take cardio-boxing classes. Anything that gets him up and moving – the more vigorously, the better – is going to help his bones.

    Think about what you can do to keep the men in your life healthy – not just on Father’s Day, but every day.

    Read more about osteoporosis and men:

    Men Get Osteoporosis, Too
    Men With Osteoporosis: Ways to Help Him Deal


    National Osteoporosis Foundation NOF Fast Facts (http://www.nof.org/)

Published On: June 17, 2012