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Osteoporosis—Not Just a Woman’s Concern

By Maureen Williams, ND

Women over 50 are usually reminded to have their bone density evaluated every couple of years, but many healthcare providers don’t know when to recommend this screening to men. To help pinpoint the right time for testing men’s bone density, a new review has identified the major factors that put men at risk for fracture from osteoporosis. The review, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, analyzed the findings from 177 studies performed between 1990 and 2007 that assessed risk factors for osteoporosis-related fracture in men, and 20 studies that evaluated various screening tests for osteoporosis. The findings from a previous review were also included in the analysis.

What puts men at risk

It comes as little surprise that the two most important risk factors identified for men were the same as those for women: being over 70 years old and being thin (having a low body mass index). Other risk factors included sedentary lifestyle, having taken prolonged courses of steroid (cortisone-like) medications, weight loss, and having had a previous fracture due to osteoporosis. Androgen deprivation therapy, a prostate cancer therapy that reduces testosterone levels, was also found to significantly increase fracture risk. 

Smoking was found to slightly increase fracture risk, while low dietary calcium from milk was not consistently associated with fracture risk. Drinking alcohol had no apparent effect on fracture risk or bone mineral density.

Although some studies identified rheumatoid arthritis, respiratory diseases such as asthma, and gastrointestinal disorders such as celiac disease as risk factors for low bone density and fracture, the evidence was not strong. 

Are you a good candidate for screening? 

Dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) is the current gold standard for diagnosing low bone density and osteoporosis in men and women. It is regularly recommended for women but less commonly for men, despite the fact that 25% of men over age 60 will have a fracture due to osteoporosis sometime in their lifetime. 

A simple osteoporosis screening questionnaire involving age and weight as the only variables was found to be an accurate predictor of osteoporosis in men, and one study found that the strongest predictor for hip fracture risk was weight under about 150 pounds (70 kilograms). (Note: This formula might not apply to men of shorter stature.)

“Osteoporosis in men is substantially underdiagnosed and undertreated in the United States and worldwide,” said lead study author Dr. Hau Liu of the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, California. “We determined that men of advanced age and low body weight are the best candidates for osteoporosis screening. Identifying other important risk factors, particularly weight loss, physical inactivity, corticosteroid use, previous osteoporotic fracture, and androgen deprivation therapy, can help healthcare providers select other men who are good candidates for screening.”

(Ann Intern Med 2008;148:685–701)

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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