Osteoporosis is a condition where your bones become thin and weak and so break easily. Men and women can be affected, but it is most common in women as their bones are less strong in the first place, and they lose bone rapidly after the menopause when their oestrogen levels fall.

The bones most likely to be affected are the wrist, hip and the vertebrae in the spine. Fractures in the wrist and hip can then be caused by relatively minor falls. Fractures of the vertebrae cause the spine to become misshapen and humped (dowagers hump) and is what causes older people to lose height.

Risk factors

  • a strong family history eg mother with ‘dowagers hump’ or hip/wrist fracture
  • early menopause – before the age of 45
  • hysterectomy with removal of the ovaries before the age of 45
  • prolonged loss of periods combined with low body weight due to excess dieting/exercise. For more information on anorexia go to the Royal College of Psychiatrists site.
  • heavy alcohol intake
  • heavy smoking
  • lack of exercise
  • oral steroids
  • malabsorption from the gut, inflammatory bowel disease (colitis)
  • in men, low testosterone levels, low body weight
The greater your bone density before you reach the menopause, the less likely you are to reach the point where your bones break. There are things you can do when you are younger to improve your bones.
  • Regular weight bearing exercise, such as jogging or walking
  • Eat a calcium-rich diet – 800mg per day for adults; 1000mg per day for children and postmenopausal women on HRT; 1500mg per day for postmenopausal women not on HRT.
Calcium content of foods
1 pint full cream milk 675mg
1 pint semi-skimmed milk 693mg
1 pint skimmed milk 708mg
1oz cheddar cheese 205mg
5oz pot yogurt 240mg
3oz cottage cheesetd> 60mg
2 large slices bread 60mg
  • Stop smoking
  • Limit your alcohol intake to 14 units per week for women and 28 units per week for men. For info on units see further info below
  • Take the oestrogen containing contraceptive pill if you don’t have periods and are thin, or exercise excessively to control your weight.
It is better to try to prevent osteoporosis rather than to treat it, but both treatment and prevention are possible. Those who cannot get enough calcium in their diet can take calcium supplements. Other treatments are also available. HRT is no longer recommended as a preventive treatment for osteoporosis, as it has been shown to carry a higher risk of breast cancer, stroke and heart disease than previously thought. It is now recommended only for the short-term treatmen
t of severe menopausal symptoms.
As the menopause is approached, usually around the age of 50, it might be appropriate to check your bone density with a special kind of scan. Those women at high risk would certainly be advised to have a bone density scan. Treatment with drugs called biphosphonates is available for anyone suffering with osteoporosis.

If you have any concerns about osteoporosis, speak to the nurse, your doctor, or contact the National Osteoporosis Society PO Box 10, Radstock, Bath, BA3 3YB. Tel 01761 471771.

Further information

Daily guidelines for sensible drinking

National Osteoporosis Society

This article published on
25 November 2005

Next review date 11/1/2013


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