Causes of Osteoporosis​

Low levels of oestrogen

The female hormone oestrogen reduces the amount of bone that is broken down and so helps to protect against osteoporosis. The ovaries make oestrogen from puberty to the menopause. Any condition that reduces the number of years that a woman produces oestrogen tends to increase the risk of osteoporosis.


These risks include:

  • having an early menopause (before the age of 45) 
  • an early hysterectomy (before theage of 45, especially if both ovaries are removed) 
  • missing periods for six months or more as a result of over-exercising or over-dieting

Other risk factors 

  • Men who have low levels of the male hormone, testosterone, are also at a higher risk of osteoporosis. For both men and women, the following factors also increase the risk of developing osteoporosis: 
  • long-term use of corticosteroid tablets (medicines sometimes used for conditions such as severe allergies) 
  • a family history of broken hips 
  • digestive disorders that affect absorption of nutrients, such as Crohns disease or ulcerative colitis 
  • long-term immobility 
  • heavy drinking 
  • smoking 
  • very low body weight
Symptoms of Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis has been called the silent disease. Most people affected are unaware that their bones are thinning until they experience a break, or notice more gradual signs such as height loss, or curvature of the spine (sometimes known as Dowagers Hump).


The bones most likely to break as a result of osteoporosis are the hip, wrist and the vertebrae of the spine.

Diagnosis of Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is diagnosed by having a bone mineral density test, such as DEXA (dual energy X-Ray absorptiometry).

Treatment of Osteoporosis

There are now a number of effective treatments that can help prevent fractures and increase bone density. These include: ​

  • Hormone replacement therapy (HRT). This prescription-only treatment aims to restore oestrogen to a pre-meno​pausal level. Taking HRT also helps reduce the risk of heart disease and relieves menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness. Some women may experience breast tenderness and nausea side-effects of the treatment. HRT can also increase your risk of developing breast cancer and uterine cancer. However, the risk still remains low. There are over 30 forms of HRT available in pills, patches, under-the-skin implants or gels
  • Bisphosphonates are non-hormonal treatments that work by blocking the break-down of bone. There are three bisphosphonates available in the UK namely, alendronate (Fosamax), etidronate (Didronel) and risedronate (Actonel)
  • A type of medicine called selective oestrogen receptor modulators(SERMS) is a synthetic hormone replacement which works by copying the effects of oestrogen on the bones. They reduce the risk of osteoporosis and heart disease but do not increase the risk of breast or endometriail cancers. The SERM currently available for osteoporosis is raloxifene (Evista)
  • Vitamin D and calcium supplements are an effective treatment to reduce bone loss in the elderly
  • Calcitriol is an active form of vitamin D given to post-menopausal women who have osteoporosis in the spine. Calcitriol improves the absorption of calcium from the gut
  • Calcitonin is a hormone made by the thyroid gland (a hormone-producing gland in the neck), which inhibits the cells that break down bone. It is only available in injection form as Calsynar (salcatonin)
  • Testosterone can be used to treat men who are deficient in the hormone and can increase their bone density. It is available in injection or implant form
Prevention of Osteoporosis

People who reach a high peak bone density when they are young are less likely to develop osteoporosis. Bone density can be boosted by a healthy diet and regular exercise, particularly in people under 35. This means prevention needs to begin at a young age.



A varied, well-balanced diet is important to build and maintain healthy bones.​

A combination of bread and cereals, fruit and vegetables, milk and diary products, and protein (from meat, fish, eggs, pulses, nuts and seeds) should provide the nutrients that your body needs.

Foods rich in calcium are especially valuable for healthy bones. Good sources include milk and diary products, such as cheese and yoghurt.

The body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium properly. Vitamin D is available in foods such as margarine and oily fish.


Weight-bearing exercise helps to promote bone creation and bone health. Good exercises include running, skipping, aerobics, tennis, weight-training and brisk walking. Ideally, you should try to exercise three times a week for at least 20 minutes.

If you are not used to exercising, build up your exercise routine gradually - increasing frequency before intensity. Talk to your doctor before you start if you have a health problem that affects your heart or breathing.



Smoking can have a harmful effect on bone and can also help to induce early menopause. If you smoke, try to give up. You should also be careful not to drink too much alcohol (see the BUPA fact sheet on alcohol).

Last Updated: Aug 2017
Please note that all medical health articles featured on our website have been reviewed by Quality Healthcare doctors. The articles are for general information only and are not medical opinions nor should the contents be used to replace the need for personal consultation with a qualified health professional on the reader’s medical condition.