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You don’t need to be an older woman to get osteoporosis

Nour Sabha, MD, endocrinologist at New Ulm Medical Center, discusses osteoporosis with a patient.

Unless you are a woman who has gone through menopause, you don’t have to worry about osteoporosis, right?

Not quite.

It’s true that women who are past menopause are at higher risk of osteoporosis, which is a decrease in bone density. But everyone’s bones naturally become weaker with age.

Our bodies constantly replace old bone tissue with new bone tissue. As we age, this rebuilding process takes longer. In fact, your bone density peaks around age 30. After that, you begin to lose bone mass.

“Anything that promotes bone loss or prevents new bone from forming can increase the risk of osteoporosis,” said Nour Sabha, MD, endocrinologist at New Ulm Medical Center.

As an endocrinologist, Sabha often works with women who have been diagnosed with osteoporosis after menopause. She also works with people diagnosed at younger ages, as well as those whose osteoporosis is not responding as expected to treatment. Her role is to help with further treatment options to help people avoid bone fracture.

Sabha noted that there are many factors that could increase a person’s risk for bone loss besides age and gender. They include family history and having a small, thin frame. Unhealthy habits can also play a role.

“If you smoke or drink heavily, if you are sedentary, or if your diet is lacking in calcium and vitamin D, your risk of osteoporosis will be higher,” she said.

Some medical conditions and medicines can also affect bone health. Among the most common are:

Prednisone and other corticosteroids. “These are often prescribed for people with asthma, rheumatoid arthritis or other conditions because they fight inflammation. But taking them for a long period of time increases your risk for bone loss,” said Sabha.

Anti-seizure medicines. People with epilepsy may be at higher risk because commonly used anti-seizure medicines have been shown to alter the way vitamin D is used in the body, affecting bone strength. Also, a seizure itself can result in a fall or other accident that could cause a fracture.

Low levels of testosterone and estrogen. “Anything that lowers estrogen (in females) or testosterone (in males) has an effect on the bones. This can result from taking strong pain medications for a long time, cancer treatment, surgery or trauma to the testes in men or ovaries in women, high levels of athletic activity, or genetic factors like early menopause in women.

Malabsorption (when the body can’t absorb enough nutrients from food). This could result from gastric bypass surgery or some digestive disorders like celiac and Crohn’s disease. Conditions like these affect how your body absorbs nutrients, including calcium and vitamin D, which are vital to bone health.

Other illnesses or chronic conditions. Conditions like diabetes, untreated hyper- thyroidism, excessive levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and kidney or liver disease can affect levels of nutrients and vitamin D, and either increase bone loss or decrease bone formation.

“Loss of bone density related to any of these conditions makes you more vulnerable to bone fractures, especially as you get older,” said Sabha. “If you’re at higher risk, it’s important to talk to your doctor about your bone health. The sooner you take steps to protect your bones, the better your odds for avoiding a fracture.”

To learn more about Sabha, visit wellness.allinahealth.org/sabha, or make an appointment by calling 507-217-5011.