What are the Risk Factors for Osteoporosis?

There are a number of factors that can increase your risk of developing osteoporosis (OP). These risk factors include your age, gender, race, size, family history, diet and lifestyle.

Age and Gender

We achieve our maximum bone mass at around the age of 30 and after this, we lose around 0.5% of bone mass per year. In those who are postmenopausal, this increases to 1% per year. This is known as osteopenia and if the loss becomes great enough, then the integrity and strength of the bone is compromised, increasing the risk of having an osteoporotic fracture.

Women have a higher risk of osteoporosis, with around 80% of all reported cases occurring in women and approximately 50% of women aged over 50 will have an osteoporotic fracture at some point. Because estrogen is involved in bone formation and loss it means that the menopause increases the risk of developing osteoporosis. Men naturally have higher bone density and strength, so it takes longer for men to lose enough of their bone density to develop osteoporosis.

Race, Size and Genetics

Individuals with lighter skin, such as Caucasian and Asian women are at more risk of osteoporosis and the condition is rare amongst African and African American women. Slender or small women are also at higher risk of osteoporosis, probably because it takes less time for bone loss to occur as it does in thicker-set women.

Our genes play a big role in determining our peak bone density and researchers have found that daughters of women with osteoporosis have a lower peak bone mass than the daughters of non-osteoporotic women. If there is a risk of hip fracture in the family, then this also increases the risk of an osteoporotic fracture.

Exercise and Diet Risk Factors

Individuals with a sedentary lifestyle have a higher risk of osteoporosis. Weight bearing activities such as running in younger life help develop higher peak bone mass and regular exercise in adult life helps to reduce the risk of, or slow down the risk of, developing osteoporosis.

Calcium and vitamin D are essential for healthy bones and individuals that do not take in enough of these often have a faster rate of bone turnover. The best source of vitamin D is from sunlight and calcium from milk and dairy products, which means that those who spend their time indoors and do not take in enough calcium from the diet have a considerably higher risk of osteoporosis.

Drinking excessive quantities of caffeine in coffee and soft drinks may affect calcium absorption in the body and eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa increase the risk of osteoporosis, mainly due to hormonal and nutritional imbalances. Heavy dieting can have a similar effect in both men and women, as restricting calorie intake reduces levels of estrogen and testosterone.

Smoking and Alcohol Risk Factors

Smoking contributes to bone loss due to its toxic effect on the cells that form bone (osteoblasts) and also stops estrogen from being able to assist with healthy bone formation. Smokers also have around a 50% higher risk of a hip fracture.

Excessive alcohol consumption is strongly linked with osteoporosis, as well as increasing the risk of falls, although low alcohol consumption may help provide some protection to bone integrity in post-menopausal women.

Other Risk Factors

Breast feeding is able to temporarily increase the risk of osteoporosis, as bone can be broken down to make calcium for breast milk if there is not enough calcium in the diet. This risk is usually eliminated within a year of breast feeding.

Kidney disease, hypogonadism, diabetes, hyperthyroidism and Cushing’s syndrome are just some of the conditions that increase the risk of osteoporosis. There are also a number of medications associated with an increased osteoporosis risk, such as those for hormone disorders, anti-cancer drugs, steroids and diuretics.


Last Reviewed 10/Mar/2014


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Whilst wielding a couple of dumbbells in a gym class in 2003, Kate experienced an epiphany around the lack of accepted best practice guidelines when it came to staying well and avoiding disease. Kate realized that she had no chance of slowing her own aging process unless she became better educated about her options.

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