Osteoporosis is a degenerative bone disease facing many of us as we age. Affecting about 54 million people in the US currently, this is a disease that is estimated to affect 50% of women and 25% of men in their lifetime.
The good news here is that knowing where your genetic susceptibility lies can lead you to targeted, personalized solutions for osteoporosis.
What causes osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is caused by a decrease in bone mineral density which results in a greater risk of fractures. The risk of fractures - such as breaking a hip - is the real worry with osteoporosis.
Twin studies have shown that bone mineral density (BMD) is between 50 and 80% genetic.[ref]
Your bones are constantly breaking down and reforming. When the bone cells dissolve the bone matrix it is called resorption, and the new bone deposits are called formation.
Osteoporosis is caused by a chronic excess of bone resorption relative to the formation of new bone. This leads to bone loss and a deterioration of the architecture of the bone.
It is estimated that the causes of osteoporosis are about 62% genetic and 38% environmental.[ref] This means over half of your risk is due to your genes. In addition to BMD, other risk factors include things like muscle strength, femoral neck geometry, nutrient deficiencies, and age at menopause. Those can be partially due to genetics but are also influenced by lifestyle choices (exercising, foods that you eat, etc).
What lifestyle factors affect osteoporosis?
Environmental factors, of course, play a role in osteoporosis as well. Some non-genetic risk factors for osteoporosis include alcohol, smoking, age, and poor nutrition.[ref]
- taking oral glucocorticoids
- alcohol intake of 3 units or more a day
- low body mass index (less than 19)
- low estrogen in women, low testosterone in men
- excess thyroid hormones
- low vitamin D and calcium intake
Genetic variants that increase the risk of osteoporosis:
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