Male Osteoporosis: Bone Mass Matters

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Real men get osteoporosis, too.

As many as 2 million American men already have cortisone, hydrocortisone, glucocorticoids, and prednisone. These drugs, useful for treating everything from to ulcers, can wreak havoc with bone. In one study, doses of prednisone higher than 7.5 mg a day shut down new bone growth completely — and sped up the normal loss of old bone.

  • Drugs for prostate cancer. Taking drugs called GnRH agonists, often used for men with prostate cancer, can lead to low bone mineral density (BMD) and a higher rate of .
  • Antiseizure drugs. These drugs have been associated with bone loss, especially for men who take long-term high doses and don’t get enough calcium or vitamin D.
  • Talk with your doctor about your risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures if you’re taking any of these “red flag” drugs. Together, you can weigh these potential risks against the benefits of these drugs for you.

    Causes of Male Osteoporosis: Medical Conditions

    A long list of diseases can lead to low bone mass, from genetic conditions like to diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and digestive and blood disorders. If you have any chronic condition — especially if you’ve been taking medications for years — it’s even more crucial to maximize your diet and exercise to maintain your bone health.

    Causes of Male Osteoporosis: Smoking

    Smoking is not a good idea, especially for strong bones. Smokers have a higher risk of fracture — a 55% higher risk of hip fracture than nonsmokers, as well as lower bone mineral density, says a 2004 analysis of 10 international studies. Nicotine has a direct toxic effect on bone cells.

    Living With Male Osteoporosis

    So what can you do to help your bones — even if you’ve already been diagnosed with osteoporosis? Here are two lifestyle tips.

    1. Exercise for Strong Bones

    Many men have spent a lifetime playing sports, so it may be easier to commit to exercise in their later years. And since the peak years to “bank” your calcium and bone density is during adolescence, men may have built up stronger bones over their years of high school and college sports. That comes in handy in later years, when bone-building has slowed.

    Exercise can preserve bone mass — especially if it’s the right kind. Weight-bearing exercise and impact sports are best for maintaining bone mass, says the Surgeon General’s report. Not “impact” as in helmet-crashing, contact sports like football — but sports where, when your foot hits the ground, there’s some force and impact there. Jogging, running around a basketball court, and jumping rope are high-impact. Walking, cross-country skiing, and inline skating are low-impact.

    Ideally, the experts say, do at least:

    • 30 minutes of moderate activity, like brisk walking, on most days of the week
    • Strength training, like weight-lifting or resistance training with weight machines, twice a week

    2. Bone Up on Calcium

    The same advice for calcium holds true for men as for women. If you already have signs of low bone mass, here’s the Surgeon General’s recommendation:

    • 1,000 mg of calcium a day from ages 19 to 50
    • 1,200 mg of calcium a day if you’re over 50

    Be sure you’re getting enough vitamin D, which you need to absorb calcium — otherwise, all that calcium goes to waste. While the standard RDA (recommended daily allowance) for adults is 400 IU of vitamin D, some doctors suggest taking more.

    “I’d say most people with osteoporosis should be on 800 IU a day,” says Mystkowski. He advises even higher doses — up to 1,200 IU of vitamin D a day — if you have osteoporosis or osteopenia and live in a climate without much sun. That’s because sunlight is the body’s primary source of vitamin D.

    Finally, check in with your doctor if you have any question about a possible hormone deficiency or medical condition that could be weakening your bones. Bone mass does matter. It can mean the difference between a hip fracture later in life — or keeping an active, high-energy lifestyle.