What Makes Women More Susceptible to Osteoporosis?

Just like your car, your house, and even your favorite jeans, your body begins to show signs of age no matter how well you take care of it. One of the ways it reveals the advancing years is osteoporosis — the loss of bone density. 

Over time, if left untreated, osteoporosis could lead to broken bones and a fractured spine. It affects millions of people all over the world, but the vast majority are women. 

If you’re a woman, especially if you’re past the age of 50, you’re at risk for developing osteoporosis. In fact, about half of women 50 or older will break a bone and have osteoporosis to blame. You are more prone to the condition if you have associated risk factors. Cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption, lack of exercise, and a diet low in calcium.

  1. Poor nutrition and poor general health.

  2. Malabsorption (nutrients are not properly absorbed from the gastrointestinal system) from conditions such as Celiac  Sprue.

  3. Low estrogen levels such as occur in menopause or with early surgical removal of both ovaries. Another cause of low estrogen level is chemotherapy, such as for breast cancer. Chemotherapy can cause early menopause due to its toxic effects on the ovaries.

  4. Amenorrhea  (loss of the menstrual period) in young women also causes low estrogen and osteoporosis. Amenorrhea can occur in women who undergo extremely vigorous training and in women with very low body fat (example: anorexia nervosa).

  5. Chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and chronic hepatitis C, an infection of the liver.

  6. Immobility, such as after a stroke, or from any condition that interferes with walking.

  7. Hyperthyroidism, a condition wherein too much thyroid hormone is produced by the thyroid gland (as in Grave's disease) or is caused by taking too much thyroid hormone medication.

  8. Hyperparathyroidism, a disease wherein there is excessive parathyroid hormone production by the parathyroid gland (a small gland located near the thyroid gland). Normally, the parathyroid hormone maintains blood calcium levels by, in part, removing calcium from the bone. In untreated hyperparathyroidism, excessive parathyroid hormone causes too much calcium to be removed from the bone, which can lead to osteoporosis.

  9. Vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. When vitamin D is lacking, the body cannot absorb adequate amounts of calcium to prevent osteoporosis. Vitamin D deficiency can result from lack of intestinal absorption of the vitamin such as occurs in celiac sprue and primary biliary cirrhosis.

  10. Certain medications can cause osteoporosis. These include heparin (a blood thinner), anti-seizure medications phenytoin (Dilantin) and phenobarbital, and long term use of corticosteroids (such as Prednisone).

The good news is that we can help you manage your symptoms and possibly prevent the eventuality of broken bones if you come in to see us at Southern Pain Specialists in Birmingham. Our team, led by Kenneth Varley, MD, can find out if you already have osteoporosis by taking a simple X-ray to check for bone loss. 

If you have osteoporosis, we can offer treatments to stop it from progressing too quickly. If you don’t have it, we can help you take steps to prevent it from affecting your life. Either way, we encourage you to come in for an evaluation so you know what you’re dealing with. As a woman, beating osteoporosis starts with understanding why women are more susceptible to it.

Menopause

When you reach menopause, your body produces less estrogen. This is a key hormone in fertility, which is why it’s nearly impossible for menopausal women to get pregnant. It’s also a hormone in bone density, so when you lose estrogen, your bones become more brittle. 

If you have decent bone density as you enter menopause, you’re not as likely to develop osteoporosis as those who reach this stage with weak bones. Also, the rate at which bone loss happens varies from woman to woman. 

You can give yourself a fighting chance by doing all you can in your youth to keep your bones strong and healthy, which includes getting enough vitamin D and calcium, exercising regularly, and not smoking. 

Female anatomy

Another reason women are more susceptible to osteoporosis than men is that women’s bones are generally smaller and thinner than men’s. There’s nothing you can do about that, but knowing it helps you understand the importance of keeping your bones in tiptop shape. 

Make sure you eat a balanced diet with plenty of vitamins and calcium. 

Ethnicity

Not only is osteoporosis sexist and ageist, it’s a bit racist as well — it seems to single out women of certain ethnic backgrounds over others. 

In the United States, Caucasian and Asian American women are more likely to get osteoporosis, and about 20% of them who are over 50 have it. The next two ethnic groups with the highest risk are Latina women (10% over 50 have it) and African American women (5% over 50 have it). 

Lactose intolerance

One of the primary reasons osteoporosis sets in is a deficiency of calcium and vitamin D — main ingredients in milk products. If you’re lactose intolerant, as many Asian Americans and African Americans are, you may not have been getting enough of these nutrients over the course of your lifetime.

The result is weakened bone mass. And if you enter menopause in that state, it’s likely that you’ll not be able to overcome the additional hit to your bone density that comes with the reduction of estrogen. 

Eating disorders

Negative body image is common for women, especially in this country. If that leads to extreme behavior such as bulimia or anorexia, it can affect your bones. That’s because severe weight loss and the lack of body fat can impact your menstrual cycle. 

If you’re extremely thin and have stopped having periods, you’re at risk for many health issues, including osteoporosis.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding

Carrying a baby taxes your body in many ways. And nursing that baby after birth continues to draw upon your body’s resources. That’s why it’s so important to maintain a healthy diet rich in vitamins and calcium for the duration of your pregnancy and breastfeeding months.

If you don’t, your fetus will take calcium from your bones and rob you of the critical nutrients you need. Many women actually slip into a state of temporary osteoporosis during pregnancy and breastfeeding that reverts back to normal later.

Dr. Varley can help you prevent, slow, or stop the progression of bone loss, depending on your age and health. He may prescribe medication to help your body actually build denser bone tissue. Or he may recommend hormone replacement therapy to balance your estrogen production. In all cases, exercise is a universal way to keep your bones strong. 

Call us today to schedule an evaluation or book an appointment online.

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