Osteoporosis is disease of the bones that occurs when a person loses too much bone, produces too little bone or both and can affect both men and women. But while millions of men suffer from osteoporosis, the vast majority of people with this potentially painful condition are women.
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, roughly 80 percent of the 10 million Americans with osteoporosis are women. Osteoporosis Canada, which notes that between 70 and 80 percent of osteoporotic fractures in Canada occur in women, reports that the loss of estrogen production during menopause production puts women at greater risk for osteoporosis than men, as estrogen plays a vital role in female bone health.
But age is not the only factor that influences a woman's risk for developing osteoporosis. Caucasian women are most at risk for osteoporosis, and the NOF estimates that 20 percent of Caucasian women age 50 and older have the condition, and more than half of Caucasian women age 50 and over have low bone mass. That means that the bones of more than 50 percent of Caucasian women over age 50 are weakening, potentially paving the way for osteoporosis in the future.
Asian American women are also at considerable risk of developing osteoporosis, which affects about the 20 percent of such women age 50 and older. Low bone density is a concern for Asian American women, more than half of whom have the condition.
The outlook for African American women is not as bleak, as just 5 percent of such women age 50 and older have osteoporosis. And while 35 percent of African American women have low bone mass, recent research indicates that few African American women, even those who have risk factors for the disease, are screened for osteoporosis. Insisting on osteoporosis screening can help African American women determine their true risk for the disease.
While gender and aging are beyond women's control, these are not the only risk factors that increase the chances women may develop low bone density or experience fractures and falls down the road. Osteoporosis Canada notes additional risk factors include:
• if either parent has had a hip fracture
• having had a prior fracture with minimal trauma
• long-term (more than three months) use of glucocorticoid therapy, such as prednisone
• rheumatoid arthritis
• current smoker
• history of falls in the previous 12 months
• vertebral fracture apparent on x-ray
• high alcohol intake (three or more drinks per day)
• weight loss greater than 10 percent since age 25
Despite the abundance of risk factors, the two most prominent of which are beyond women's control, women are not helpless against osteoporosis. Among the many things women can do to protect their bones is exercise regularly and eat a well-balanced diet that includes enough calcium and vitamin D as well as plenty of fruits and vegetables. In addition, avoiding or quitting smoking and limiting alcohol consumption to no more than two to three drinks per day can protect bones and make them less vulnerable to breaks and the onset of osteoporosis.
Women can learn more about osteoporosis at www.nof.org and www.osteoporosis.ca.