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.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes osteoporosis?

    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.

  • How can I prevent osteoporosis?

    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:

    • Get enough calcium and vitamin D
    • Be active to keep bones and muscles strong
    • Don’t smoke or use tobacco
    • Don’t drink alcohol in excess
  • Are any foods bad to eat if you have osteoporosis?

    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.

  • Can osteoporosis be reversed?

    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.

  • What is the best and safest treatment for osteoporosis?

    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.

  • Is osteoporosis genetic?

    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.

Key Terms

How Osteoporosis Affects the Bones

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.

Page Sources
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  1. 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

  2. United States Office of the Surgeon General. "The Frequency of Bone Disease." In: Bone Health and Osteoporosis: A Report of the Surgeon General. 2004.

  3. 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

  4. National Institutes of Health Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. Osteoporosis in Men. Updated October 2018.

Additional Reading