A number of factors can increase the likelihood that you'll develop osteoporosis — including your age, race, lifestyle choices, and medical conditions and treatments.

Unchangeable risks

Some risk factors for osteoporosis are out of your control, including:

  • Your sex. Women are much more likely to develop osteoporosis than are men.
  • Age. The older you get, the greater your risk of osteoporosis.
  • Race. You're at greatest risk of osteoporosis if you're white or of Asian descent.
  • Family history. Having a parent or sibling with osteoporosis puts you at greater risk, especially if you also have a family history of hip fractures.
  • Frame size. Men and women who have small body frames tend to have a higher risk because they may have less bone mass to draw from as they age.

Hormone levels

Osteoporosis is more common in people who have too much or too little of certain hormones in their bodies. Examples include:

  • Sex hormones. The reduction of estrogen levels at menopause is one of the strongest risk factors for developing osteoporosis. Women may also experience a drop in estrogen during certain cancer treatments. Men experience a gradual reduction in testosterone levels as they age. And some treatments for prostate cancer reduce testosterone levels in men. Lowered sex hormone levels tend to weaken bone.
  • Thyroid problems. Too much thyroid hormone can cause bone loss. This can occur if your thyroid is overactive or if you take too much thyroid hormone medication to treat an underactive thyroid.
  • Other glands. Osteoporosis has also been associated with overactive parathyroid and adrenal glands.

Dietary factors

Osteoporosis is more likely to occur in people who have:

  • Low calcium intake. A lifelong lack of calcium plays a major role in the development of osteoporosis. Low calcium intake contributes to diminished bone density, early bone loss and an increased risk of fractures.
  • Eating disorders. People who have anorexia are at higher risk of osteoporosis. Low food intake can reduce the amount of calcium ingested. In women, anorexia can stop menstruation, which also weakens bone.
  • Gastrointestinal surgery. A reduction in the size of your stomach or a bypass or removal of part of the intestine limits the amount of surface area available to absorb nutrients, including calcium.

Steroids and other medications

Long-term use of corticosteroid medications, such as prednisone and cortisone, interferes with the bone-rebuilding process. Osteoporosis has also been associated with medications used to combat or prevent:

  • Seizures
  • Depression
  • Gastric reflux
  • Cancer
  • Transplant rejection

Lifestyle choices

Some bad habits can increase your risk of osteoporosis. Examples include:

  • Sedentary lifestyle. People who spend a lot of time sitting have a higher risk of osteoporosis than do their more-active counterparts. Any weight-bearing exercise is beneficial for your bones, but walking, running, jumping, dancing and weightlifting seem particularly helpful for creating healthy bones.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption. Regular consumption of more than two alcoholic drinks a day increases your risk of osteoporosis, possibly because alcohol can interfere with the body's ability to absorb calcium.
  • Tobacco use. The exact role tobacco plays in osteoporosis isn't clearly understood, but researchers do know that tobacco use contributes to weak bones.
Jun. 21, 2013