Osteoporosis isn’t just a women’s disease. One in four men over the age of 50 will break a bone due to the disease, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF). It’s a silent disease, often without symptoms before a fracture. So should men get bone scans to determine bone density?
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Not necessarily. The American Academy of Family Physicians and the NOF don’t recommend bone scans in men until you are age 70, unless you have risk factors or symptoms of osteoporosis. All women, by contrast, should have regular scans at age 65 — and earlier if they have risk factors for osteoporosis. Women are five times more likely to get osteoporosis of the hip than men, for example.
The scan recommended most often is a painless, non-invasive test called dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry scan (DEXA, or DXA.) These scans usually measure the bone density in the hip and spine, and sometimes the forearm. If DEXA shows that you have osteoporosis, you and your doctor can decide how to treat the problem. But many men learn they have only mild bone loss, a condition known as osteopenia, and for them the risk of fracture is often very low and medications to treat it are not always helpful and can cause side effects.
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“DEXA is unnecessary in men under age 70 who have no symptoms of osteoporosis,” says Glen Stream, M.D., board chair of the American Academy of Family Physicians and a family physician in Spokane, Washington. “Studies in large groups of people have found that younger men who don’t have symptoms of osteoporosis don’t benefit by getting this test.” Your doctor may recommend a bone scan sooner if you have risk factors for osteoporosis, including if you:
• Have a family history of osteoporosis
• Take steroid medications
• Don’t exercise
• Drink alcohol to excess
• Have lower than normal blood levels of testosterone and/or estrogen
• Have certain medical problems including prostate cancer, chronic kidney, lung, or gastrointestinal disease, or rheumatoid arthritis or other autoimmune disease
Strong Men, Strong Bones
Whatever your age, you can protect your bones by eating a varied diet that includes fruits, vegetables, fish — and foods rich in vitamin D and calcium such as low-fat dairy products, fortified soy foods, green leafy vegetables such as kale, and fortified cereals and grains. More ways to stay strong in the bone:
- Don’t smoke.
- Limit excessive intake of alcohol and caffeine, both of which can cause excess loss of calcium from your body, weakening bones.
- Exercise daily. The right program will not only strengthen bones but help you maintain your balance, so that when you get older, you’ll be less likely to fall and break a bone.
- The best exercise routine: Alternate workouts of weight-being exercises (such as walking, tennis, stair climbing), muscle-strengthening moves (such as lifting weights or using resistance bands), and balance-improving activities (such as tai chi, yoga, or Pilates).
The good news is that the same healthy diet and exercise program that strengthens bones in men (and women) also protects against heart disease, diabetes, many cancers, and age-related memory loss.
More from KnowMore:
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- Sugar-Crazy Guys: How To Eat Healthier Now
- Why Fitness Matters: Cancer, Heart Disease and Longevity
- The Heart Risk Men Fear Most
Laura Flynn McCarthy is a New Hampshire-based writer who specializes in health and parenting topics.