Miho J. Tanaka, MD, is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon who specializes in the treatment of sports medicine injuries.
The term osteoporosis means “porous bone” and the condition is characterized by progressive bone thinning. The gradual deterioration that occurs over time can make your bones fragile and easy to fracture, especially the hip, spine, and wrist.
Approximately 50 million Americans over age 50 have osteoporosis, also known as low bone mass, and the disease contributes to 1.5 million fractures each year.
It’s estimated that half of all women and a fifth of all men over age 50 will experience an osteoporosis-related fracture at some point in their life. People of all genders experience the same rate of bone loss starting at around age 65.
Osteoporosis is sometimes confused with osteoarthritis (the most common type of arthritis), but they’re different diseases.
Osteoporosis is primarily caused by the natural aging process. For most people, your body replenishes bone faster than it’s broken down until you get into your 30s. Then that balance reverses, and you begin to lose bone faster than you can make it. That process accelerates with menopause in women. As the structure of bone becomes more porous, the bones become weak and brittle.
Building lots of strong bones when you’re young can help off-set bone loss as you age. To protect your bones at any age:
Excessive intake of some food components have been associated with lowering calcium levels, which can interfere with bone production. These include the following:
Caffeine may have a slight impact on bone loss, as well. Drinking soda is linked to bone loss, possibly due to the caffeine and phosphorous content, or because it’s associated with generally poor eating habits.
The goal of osteoporosis treatments such as prescription drugs is to increase bone density. However, minimizing bone loss through proper nutrition and weight-bearing exercise plays an equally important role in keeping your bones healthy.
The answer varies depending on how you answer certain questions. Factors you and your doctor should consider include your sex, age, overall health, how much bone you’ve lost, what type of medications you prefer (injection, infusion, pill, etc.), and drug side effects. Your custom treatment regimen should consider all aspects of your health.
A genetic predisposition for osteoporosis can run in families. Numerous genes can increase your potential for developing osteoporosis, including those that determine your peak bone mass. Ethnicity plays a role, as well. For example, Black people tend to have a higher bone mass, followed by Hispanic people, then White and Asian people. However, individual variations exist.
Bone disease comes in many forms, including:
Bone diseases can cause deformity, disability, and weak bones that break easily. While not all bone disease is preventable, you can lower your odds of common bone diseases by eating a healthy diet, staying active, maintaining a good weight, and avoiding alcohol and tobacco.
Calcium is a mineral that’s important for building healthy teeth and bones. You get calcium from foods, including:
You can also take calcium supplements, but it’s considered best to get your calcium through your diet.
Osteomalacia is a medical condition that is characterized by soft bones. Symptoms can include pain, mobility limitations, and bones that break easily. It occurs when new bone materials are formed without the proper minerals to make them strong. Osteomalacia can be caused by:
In osteoporosis, bones become thinner over time. Explore this interactive model that shows how the condition can cause a loss of density in a bone such as the femur, making it more fragile.
Wright NC, Looker AC, Saag KG, et al. The recent prevalence of osteoporosis and low bone mass in the United States based on bone mineral density at the femoral neck or lumbar spine. J Bone Miner Res. 2014;29(11):2520–2526. doi:10.1002/jbmr.2269
United States Office of the Surgeon General. "The Frequency of Bone Disease." In: Bone Health and Osteoporosis: A Report of the Surgeon General. 2004.
Sözen T, Özışık L, Başaran NÇ. An overview and management of osteoporosis. Eur J Rheumatol. 2017;4(1):46–56. doi:10.5152/eurjrheum.2016.048
National Institutes of Health Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. Osteoporosis in Men. Updated October 2018.
National Osteoporosis Foundation. Treatment for osteoporosis. Updated December 17, 2019.