Until you reach menopause, you don't think much about your bones. They're just sort of...there. But after you stop menstruating (the medical definition of menopause is a year without periods), the composition of your bones changes dramatically and you become more at risk for fracture.
Ten million Americans over the age of 50 have osteoporosis, which is a disorder characterized by thinning of the bone structure. Scientists believe that millions more are at risk of getting it.
Women are most vulnerable because our bones start out smaller. The hormonal changes after menopause mean you lose bone density. (Men lose bone density as they age as well but the process is more gradual in most cases.)
Not everyone gets osteoporosis. Here's a rundown of some major risk factors:
- A history of fractures
- Caucasian or Asian descent
- Late puberty
- Low bone mass
- A family history of osteoporosis
- Weighing less than 127 pounds or having a BMI under 20
- A history of anorexia or bulimia
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Excessive alcohol use
- Low calcium intake
- Vitamin D deficiency
As you can see, you have control over some of these risk factors. Next week, I'll talk about what you can do to lower your risk.
The National Institutes of Health has more information on risk factors.