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Men older than 35 should continue to exercise. Get enough calcium and vitamin D daily, whether from foods you eat or dietary supplements. Get regular weight-bearing exercise, don't smoke, and drink alcohol in moderation.

Osteoporosis is the loss of bone density and strength. Though it is most often thought of as a woman's disease, men also get osteoporosis. The condition increases your risk of breaking bones if you fall or have a minor injury.

Osteoporosis usually occurs in women after menopause, when their bodies produce much less of the sex hormone estrogen. Estrogen helps a woman's bones stay strong. Without any therapy, bone loss occurs at a faster rate after menopause. In the 45-55 years old age group, women are six times more likely than men to develop osteoporosis.

However, as both men and women approach their mid to late 70s, bone loss due to aging occurs. Thereafter, in older adults, women are only twice as likely as men to have osteoporosis.

How does it occur?
In healthy adults, bones continue to grow, reaching their greatest strength around ages 30 to 35. After that, a slow decline in bone strength occurs over many years. The two main causes of osteoporosis are decreased estrogen and aging.

The bones of young boys and teenagers who aren't physically active and don't get enough calcium in their diet are probably not as strong as they should otherwise be. If bones do not become as strong as possible, there is less bone reserve, leaving you more likely to develop osteoporosis as you age. In the U.S. today, only one in four school-aged boys gets enough calcium in his diet.

Some medical conditions and medications can also cause osteoporosis and can worsen age-related bone loss.

Conditions that can result in osteoporosis include:

  • diabetes
  • hypogonadism (loss of male sex hormone)
  • hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid glands)
  • congestive heart failure
  • chronic kidney failure.

Medications associated with osteoporosis include:

  • corticosteroids (steroids), when used over long periods of time for conditions such as chronic inflammatory bowel disease or chronic lung disease
  • antacids that contain aluminum, when used daily for a long time seizure medication taken long-term.

Consult with your physicians to find out other medications that may be associated with osteoporosis.

Lifestyle also affects bone health. In addition to poor diet and exercise habits, heavy smoking and drinking can contribute to bone loss over time.

What are the symptoms?
There are usually no symptoms until a bone breaks more easily than it ordinarily should. You may break a bone in your spine just by coughing or sneezing, for example. A simple slip and fall may fracture a wrist, hip, or both.

How is it diagnosed?
Osteoporosis, if moderate to severe, can be seen on a regular x-ray. Ultrasound tests may also be used for diagnosis. Bone mineral density can be measured using x-rays with a special test called a DEXA scan. Blood tests can show if your level of the male sex hormone testosterone is low.

How is it treated?
For both men and women, it is important to get enough calcium and vitamin D. The recommended daily dose of calcium for men under 65 is 1,000 mg; 1,500 mg daily for those 65 and older. Doses may change also if you are taking medicines to treat osteoporosis. Calcium is found naturally in foods such as milk, yogurt, and cheese. It can also be taken as a dietary supplement. The recommended daily dose of vitamin D, which helps your body absorb and use calcium, is 400 to 600 IUs. Vitamin D is typically found in most multivitamins in the recommended doses.

There are medicines that can be used to prevent and treat osteoporosis, but only take them if prescribed by a physician. You may be given a hormone if tests show your hormone level is low.

Weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, stair climbing, team sports, and weight lifting, also helps keep your bones strong. Doing physical activity every day, eating healthier, and stopping smoking may keep your bones from getting weaker and might strengthen them.

How long will the effects last?

The risk of a broken bone resulting from osteoporosis increases with age.

How can I take care of myself?
Follow the treatment advised by your health care provider. In addition, you can:

  • Stop smoking. Smokers may absorb less calcium from their diet.
  • Limit alcohol intake to no more than 2 ounces of hard liquor, two 12-oz servings of beer, or two 4-oz glasses of wine.
  • Avoid excessive amounts of caffeine and carbonated soft drinks
  • Do weight-bearing exercise. Walking or lifting lightweights is especially good. Ask your health care provider if there are any limits on your exercising.
  • Eat a healthful diet that includes dairy products and plenty of fruits and vegetables.

To help prevent falls and possible broken bones around the house:

  • wear shoes that provide solid support (such as running/walking shoes)
  • sit down and rest when you are tired
  • get rid of throw rugs
  • keep areas where you will be walking well lit
  • carefully clean up spills on the floor
  • use bathmats or shower mats in the tub or shower
  • be cautious about going outdoors when roads and sidewalks are icy or wet.

If you are on medication to treat your osteoporosis, be sure to take it as directed. For example, some medications should be taken in the morning on an empty stomach, and you should remain upright for at least a half hour after taking them.

What can be done to prevent osteoporosis?
Urge all children and teenagers to get plenty of exercise and to eat a well-balanced diet that includes calcium-rich foods. One way to help prevent osteoporosis is to do everything possible to encourage peak bone growth before age 35.