Because so much of the focus surrounding osteoporosis tends to focus on women, it’s easy to forget that men get this condition too. Osteoporosis is more common in women—affecting an estimated 30 percent of postmenopausal women. But one in five men over the age of 50 will at some point suffer a bone fracture as a result of osteoporosis.
After the age of 75, men become even more vulnerable to bone loss and breaks than their younger peers. And, by some estimates, the number of hip fractures in men worldwide will double by 2025.1
What’s to Blame?
As with women, osteoporosis in men is caused, in part, by declining estrogen levels. (Just as women have small amounts of testosterone in their bodies, men have small amounts estrogen.) Estrogen has various roles—it reduces the amount of calcium drawn from the bones, and it boosts the levels of bone-enhancing hormones like calcitonin, which stimulates bone growth.
While very little can be done to stop this natural decline in estrogen, new research has found that it is possible for older men to lessen the risk of developing osteoporosis by making a few lifestyle adjustments.2
In this study, researchers followed 1,122 men aged 70 to 97 for two years who were part of the Concord Health and Ageing in Men Project (CHAMP). They collected data on these men’s mobility, muscle strength, balance, medication use, cognition, medical history, lifestyle factors and serum vitamin D levels. They each also had baseline and follow-up measurements of total hip bone mineral density.
At the conclusion of the study, researchers found that annual loss of bone mineral density accelerated with increasing age—0.4 percent in men 70 to 75 years of age, to 1.2 percent in men older than 85. They also learned that these men lost bone density faster with increasing age; with the use of thiazolidinedione or loop-diuretic medications; if they had kidney disease, poor balance or larger hip bone area; or if they had lower serum vitamin D levels.
On the other hand, older men who used walking as a form of exercise and who worked on achieving better balance were able to slow the progression of osteoporosis.
Interestingly, the use of beta-blocker medication (used to treat hypertension and heart problems) also appeared to reduce bone loss. Previous studies have found a link between the use of this particular medication and reduced fracture risk, as well as higher bone mineral density.3-4
The jury is still out on how exactly beta-blockers prevent osteoporosis, but some research indicates that it has to do with the hunger-regulating hormone leptin, which also has been shown to control bone formation and resorption (destruction).5 The resorption characteristic associated with leptin is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system via a specific receptor present on bone cells. Without this receptor, people would make more bone and destroy less bone, leading to fewer osteoporotic fractures.
Beta-blockers come into play because they inhibit the sympathetic nervous system, thereby reducing the bone-destructive characteristics of leptin.
Recommendations for Preventing Osteoporosis
Despite the results of this study, don’t be too quick to resort to beta-blockers to prevent your risk of osteoporosis. Like all drugs, beta-blockers have some unpleasant side effects and should only be used for their intended purpose and under the supervision of a doctor. Side effects include fatigue, cold hands, digestive troubles, dizziness and headache.
In addition, beta-blockers deplete levels of the hormone melatonin, which is important for many aspects of health, including sleep, immunity and heart health. Ironically, researchers also have linked low melatonin levels to high blood pressure.
Realistically, the two best ways to build strong bones and reduce the risk of osteoporosis are to take bone-supportive supplements and to exercise regularly. Walking is good, but strength training or weight-bearing exercise is even better.6-7
As for supplements, be sure you’re taking a combination of calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, vitamin K, zinc, copper, silicon, vitamin C and phosphorus every day to protect your bones.
Bleicher K, et al. Osteoporos Int. 2012 Dec 5. [Epub ahead of print.]
Yang S, et al. Bone. 2011 Mar 1;48(3):451-5.
Pasco JA, et al. J Bone Miner Res. 2004 Jan;19(1):19-24.
Mosti MP, et al. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Jan 2. [Epub ahead of print.]
Gomez-Cabello A, et al. Sports Med. 2012 Apr 1;42(4):301-25.
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