Osteoporosis is a condition that weakens bones, leading to increased risk of fracture. It develops slowly over several years due to the natural process of ageing, resulting in a decrease in bone density, and is often only diagnosed when a bone fractures.

The bones of an embryo, young person and adultBones lose density and strength as we age

Factors contributing to the development of osteoporosis

A number of factors can lead to the development of osteoporosis.

Priority Health Issues – Osteoporosis
  • Insufficient intake of calcium when bones are growing – During childhood and adolescence, when bones are growing and developing, if calcium and Vitamin D intake is insufficient then peak bone mass may be affected, increasing the risk of developing osteoporosis in later life.
  • Post-menopausal women – After women go through the menopause, for the first few years they lose bone mass rapidly. Therefore, women are more at risk of osteoporosis than men, particularly if they have gone through the menopause early, which is considered to be before the age of 45.
  • Family history – A family history of osteoporosis can increase the risk of developing the condition, especially if a parent has suffered from a hip fracture.
  • Being on certain medications – Being on certain types of medication, particularly over a long period of time, can affect bone strength.
  • Having a low BMI – Being underweight can have an impact on the bone mineral density of the hip and vertebrae, which can increase the risk of fractures and development of osteoporosis.
  • Smoking – Smoking has been linked with an increased risk of developing osteoporosis, as tobacco use decreases bone density.

Dietary advice to manage osteoporosis

  • Healthy diet, including foods rich in calcium and Vitamin D – In order to increase bone strength, a diet high in calcium and Vitamin D is required. Vitamin D aids the absorption of calcium and can be found in foods such as cod liver oil, oily fish and margarine. Foods high in calcium include, milk and dairy products.
  • Vitamin D supplements/exposure to sunlight – Vitamin D is made in the body from the absorption of sunlight. Most people obtain the Vitamin D they require in this manner, but certain groups of people (such as older people or those who are housebound) may require supplements to meet their recommended intake.

Lifestyle advice to manage osteoporosis

  • Increase physical activity through weight-bearing exercise – The best exercise for your bones is the weight-bearing kind. This forces your body to work against gravity (for example, running, jogging and hiking).
  • Maintain a healthy body weight – Being underweight can increase your risk of bone fractures so maintaining a healthy weight will decrease the risk of developing osteoporosis.
  • Make good lifestyle choices – Not smoking, or giving up smoking, will help decrease the risk of developing osteoporosis as one of the side effects of tobacco use is a decrease in bone density.