Osteoporosis is a bone disorder characterized by too little bone mass. When a person with osteoporosis gets older, their bones become brittle and weak, causing them to break more easily.

Any bone can be affected, but most often breaks occur in the wrist, hip, or spine, when a person trips and falls. A broken hip or spine is very serious, requiring hospitalization and surgery. It will likely impair a person's ability to walk, and cause pain, deformity, and sometimes death.

human figure

What Causes Osteoporosis

calcium needs

Our bones, in addition to providing support for the body, serve as a large store of an important mineral called calcium. Calcium is needed by many of the body's cells. Because bones have a lot of calcium, bone tissue is routinely broken down to supply cells with the calcium they need.

Osteoporosis results when a person doesn't receive enough calcium to replenish bone loss, or when a person's cells are unable to properly use calcium.

Who's At Risk?

Multiple genes and environmental factors influence bone health. If someone in your family has osteoporosis, you may have inherited factors that make you more susceptible to this disease. So it's important to know your family medical history. If you know you're at risk, you can take steps to protect yourself.

Even if osteoporosis doesn't run in your family, you may still be at risk. All women are generally at risk for developing osteoporosis due to hormonal changes that occur at menopause. (Hormones control when bone tissue is broken down to access stored calcium.)

Women who weigh less than 127 pounds are even more likely to develop osteoporosis because they have smaller bones. Eating disorders are especially dangerous. If a woman experiences weight loss significant enough to alter her normal menstrual cycle, she will likely suffer from osteoporosis in later years.

Reducing The Risk

It is important to eat foods high in calcium while you're young. You only have until age 20 or 30 to build the bone tissue and store the calcium you will need in later years.

Begin now to reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis.

  1. Make sure your diet includes the recommended daily amount of calcium, as well as Vitamin D (which helps your body use calcium).
  2. Participate in weight-bearing exercise to encourage the building of strong bones.
  3. Avoid smoking, excessive alcohol, and caffeine (factors that increase calcium loss from bone).
  4. Talk to your doctor about how to build and maintain healthy bones.
  5. Ask your doctor for a bone density test to screen for osteoporosis.
calcium and exercise

APA format:

Genetic Science Learning Center. (2013, September 1) Osteoporosis. Retrieved February 28, 2024, from https://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/history/osteoporosis

CSE format:

Osteoporosis [Internet]. Salt Lake City (UT): Genetic Science Learning Center; 2013 [cited 2024 Feb 28] Available from https://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/history/osteoporosis

Chicago format:

Genetic Science Learning Center. "Osteoporosis." Learn.Genetics. September 1, 2013. Accessed February 28, 2024. https://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/history/osteoporosis.