Osteoporosis Risk Factors: What Young Women Can Do Now to Reduce the Risk

by Allison Bush Editor

Osteoporosis is a disease in which the bones become thin and weak, increasing your risk of breaks. A common misconception is that osteoporosis is an "old person's disease." But while most women don't see the effects until later in life, factors earlier in your life will directly contribute to your potential to develop this condition later. While some risk factors for osteoporosis can’t be changed, there are certain steps you can take to help reduce your risk. Read on to learn about them.

Double helix, DNA strand, genetics concept.

Genetics are an uncontrollable risk factor

Genetic factors can contribute up to 75 percent of peak bone mass by age 30, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The most compelling factors are a family history of osteoporosis or fractures (especially on the maternal side). Unfortunately, this is a risk factor that is out of your control. Gender, race, and ethnicity are all genetic risk factors.

Two older woman walking and talking on city street.

Age and gender are key risk factors

While men can get osteoporosis, about 80 percent of Americans with the condition are women, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF). Additionally, being over age 50 greatly increases your risk. Additionally, women who had their first period at a later age may have increased risk as well. Similarly, menopause leads to bone loss, so if you’ve reached that stage of life, you have a greater chance of developing this condition.

Older women doing tai chi

Race and ethnicity: What’s your osteoporosis risk?

When it comes to race and ethnicity, Caucasian women have the highest risk of developing osteoporosis, according to the NIH. This increased risk may be the result of differences in bone density. For example, African-American women often have higher peak bone mass.


Medications and osteoporosis risk

Some common medications can decrease your bone density, increasing your risk of breaking bones, according to the Endocrine Society. Some of these drugs include steroids, gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists used to treat endometriosis, prostate cancer, and female infertility, some medications used to treat epilepsy, and aromatase inhibitors used to treat breast cancer. Talk to your doctor about risks to your bones if you are taking these medications.

X-ray of pelvis bones

Chronic conditions and osteoporosis

If you have a chronic condition, you may have poorer bone health and an increased risk of fractures, according to a 2017 study in Endocrinology Today. For example, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and chronic liver disease are associated with a higher risk. If you have a chronic illness, talk to your doctor about your potential risk of bone loss and how you can reduce your risk of fractures.

Woman smoking cigarette and drinking scotch

Stop smoking and reduce drinking to lower osteoporosis risk

Some lifestyle or behavioral choices are associated with increased risk of bone loss. For example, smoking is associated with accelerated bone loss and increased risk of fracture, according to the NIH. Excessive alcohol or caffeine intake also can lead to lower bone density, according to the NOF.

Woman training with kettlebells.

Stay fit to keep bones strong

Decreased physical activity affects bone mass, too. According to the NIH, children and young adults who get regular exercise usually have a higher peak bone mass, meaning their risk of osteoporosis is lower. If you’re over 30, you can still help reduce your risk by getting regular physical activity. Try weight-bearing exercises like walking, climbing stairs, or lifting weights.

Vitamin D rich foods.

Nutrition and osteoporosis risk

Nutritional factors can have an influence on the development of osteoporosis, according to the NIH. For example, low calcium intake, vitamin D deficiency, and high salt intake are all risk factors. Although calcium is essential to bone health, you also need other nutrients, specifically vitamin D, for it to be beneficial.

Young girl exercising

Take steps now to prevent osteoporosis

To fight low bone mineral densities that lead to osteoporosis, you need to start taking steps for prevention as soon as possible; ideally, you'd start healthy habits during childhood and continue throughout your life. This includes adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D, regular weight-bearing exercise, no smoking, drinking in moderation, and getting treatment for other inherited risk factors you may have. Making healthy choices now will pay off later in life.

Allison Bush
Meet Our Writer
Allison Bush

Allison Bush is a former HealthCentral editor who covered a wide range of health topics.