What are the risk factors for osteoporosis?

The following factors put women at some risk of osteoporosis:


  • Older age
  • Postmenopausal
  • Experienced early menopause, natural or surgical, that is before age 40
  • Family history of osteoporosis, especially osteoporotic fractures
  • Caucasian or Asian heritage
  • Thin and small boned
  • History of irregular periods, no periods or an eating disorder


  • Infrequent exercise
  • Life-long low calcium intake
  • Low Vitamin D intake
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Caffeine (more than three cups of coffee a day)
  • Alcohol (consistently more than two drinks a day)

Drug Use

  • Corticosteroids
  • Anti-epileptic drugs
  • High dose thyroid medication

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Is hormone therapy an option if I have a medical history that suggests that osteoporosis could be in my future?

Even short-term hormone therapy (HT) can improve a women’s bone structure, and then other medications can be used to sustain bone health over the longer-term. The Women’s Health Initiative in the United States, a randomized clinical trial involving menopausal women, found that hormone therapy was clearly effective in the prevention of hip fractures, vertebral breaks and other injuries. The SOGC Consensus Report, however, does not recommend HT as a first line therapy for osteoporosis, but HT may be recommended for certain individuals with the disease.

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Is hormone therapy my first option if I know I have osteoporosis?

Doctors rarely prescribe hormone therapy (HT) just for osteoporosis.  But HT does deliver a secondary benefit for women who are using it to deal with other troublesome menopause symptoms.

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What are some of the early signs of osteoporosis?

By the time a bone fracture occurs, even after a small fall, osteoporosis may have already done its damage.  Understanding the risk factors previously mentioned, is the best way to determine if you are at risk for osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis Canada recommends that all postmenopausal women, men over 50, and all individuals over the age of 65, be assessed to see if they are at risk for osteoporosis. Tests known as Bone Mineral Density (BMD) which are safe and painless, much like an X-ray, can accurately measure the density of your bones. A BMD test can tell you whether or not you have osteoporosis and how likely you are to develop it in the future, and can help you to make decisions now that may prevent fractures or further bone loss.

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Are there nutritional or other supplements that I can take to prevent or delay the onset of osteoporosis?

To reduce the risk of osteoporosis you should take a Vitamin D supplement, do some weight bearing exercises such as walking that help maintain strength, balance and flexibility, and not smoke.  Calcium supplements you can get at the drug store are also known to slow bone loss and shore up bone density.

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How does exercise affect my chances of osteoporosis?  What if I already have been diagnosed with osteoporosis?

Exercise is important at any time in your life, and it is never too late to start.  Weight bearing exercise such as walking, or lifting a reasonable amount of weight, can and does have a positive impact on bone mass.  Other types of exercise help keep you flexible and improve your balance, factors that could help you avoid a fall leading to a bone break.

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What are some of the best weight bearing exercises that help prevent osteoporosis, or slow its progress?

The ideal exercise program for women just before, at and after menopause should include some weight bearing, some strengthening and some stretching exercises.

Since your bone mass begins to diminish as menopause is reached, weight bearing exercise is especially recommended.  As pressure on your bones is applied, the body’s natural defence system wants to spread the load and actually builds more bone. Activities such as brisk walking, low-impact aerobics, and dancing are considered “weight bearing” exercises.   

Stretching exercises keep muscles flexible and toned, and tend to make us relaxed as well.  Yoga is a good example of exercise with the stretch built in. Resistance exercises that require lifting or pulling, sometimes known as weight training, should also be part of your exercise program.

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