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Osteoporosis: Not for women only

Not many men are aware that they could develop osteoporosis. But it’s a fact: Experts say one of every five people who acquires this debilitating bone disease is male.

Osteoporosis, or brittle-bone disease, causes bones to fracture easily. The National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that the disease causes more than 300,000 hip fractures each year. Although women are more likely to suffer a hip fracture than men, men are more likely to die within a year of their injury.

Millions of men at risk

Once thought to afflict only postmenopausal women, osteoporosis today affects more than 2 million men, and millions more are at risk. What’s worse, the disease can progress silently. Risk factors include:

  • Inadequate calcium. Most Americans don’t get enough in their diets.
  • Certain medicines. Taking prolonged doses of steroids, anticoagulants, some cancer drugs and antacids made with aluminum increases the risk for osteoporosis.
  • Chronic diseases. Illnesses affecting the kidneys, lungs, stomach and intestines can lower testosterone levels and put men at greater risk.
  • Lifestyle choices. Smoking, heavy alcohol use and not exercising increase risk.
  • Eating disorders. Bulimia and anorexia nervosa cause bone-density loss in hips and backs.
  • Uncontrollable factors. Caucasian men have the highest risk of osteoporosis. Other factors include a family history of the disease; a thin, small-boned frame; and advancing age—bone density naturally recedes as we get older.

Two BMD tests

Osteoporosis is diagnosed by two types of pain-free bone mineral density (BMD) tests. Ask your doctor if you are a candidate for screening. And call your physician if you have sudden low back pain or are losing height. Early detection means more effective treatment. Meanwhile, you can protect yourself with these recommendations:

  • Vitamins. Get 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium daily—1,200 mg daily after age 65—from low-fat dairy products, leafy greens, broccoli, sardines with bones and enriched juices. Also, if you’re not getting enough vitamin D from sunlight, you may need a daily supplement that provides 400 to 800 international units (IUs) of vitamin D (800 to 1,000 IUs if you’re over 65).
  • Exercise. Weight-bearing activities that help strengthen bones include walking, jogging, playing tennis, climbing stairs and lifting weights. If you’ve been diagnosed with osteoporosis, get your doctor’s O.K. before beginning.
  • Prescription drugs. Of the various medications used to slow or reverse osteoporosis in women, only Fosamax and Actonel are approved for men. Testosterone-replacement therapy can benefit men with low testosterone. Speak to your doctor about these therapies.