Osteoporosis is a common disorder affecting the bones. It is characterized by reduced bone mineral density due to which the bones become weak and porous. This can lead to an increased risk of fracture.
The incidence of osteoporosis has been rising at an alarming rate in the last few decades. This condition is more prevalent in women, especially those over the age of 40.
Bone pain and fractures due to osteoporosis can cause significant problems in your ability to move and can adversely affect your daily routine. If you understand the risk factors for osteoporosis, you can take steps to avoid these risks. This article lists the risk factors for developing osteoporosis.
What are the risk factors for osteoporosis?
The risk factors for osteoporosis can be grouped into categories:
1. Non-modifiable factors
Some risk factors of osteoporosis can not be avoided. The unchangeable risk factors that are beyond your control include:
- Gender: Research studies have revealed that women are more likely to develop osteoporosis than men. The higher risk of this condition in women is linked to the fluctuating levels of hormones, especially, estrogen. 
- Age: The risk of women developing osteoporosis increases with age. However, while age is an unavoidable factor, women can definitely take steps to minimize the impact of age-related wear and tear and bone loss to reduce their risk of osteoporosis to some extent. 
- Race: Women having a lighter skin tone or those of Asian descent are more prone to develop osteoporosis. The higher risk in Asian women could be linked to the reduced awareness about this disease and the lack of calcium in their diet.
- The increased risk in women with white or lighter skin could indicate reduced exposure to the sun and a resulting deficiency of vitamin D. 
- Family history: Men and women who have a parent or siblings with osteoporosis are more likely to develop this condition. The risk is much higher in women who have a family history of osteoporosis-induced fractures. 
- Body frame: Women having a smaller body frame are more likely to develop osteoporosis as they have less bone mass from which calcium can be drawn into the blood as they age. Since they already have less bone mass, the bones lose their calcium content faster resulting in a reduced bone mineral density.
2. Hormonal factors
The processes of calcium and vitamin D absorption, bone formation, bone loss, and bone resorption are regulated by the hormones secreted in the body. Hence, any imbalance in the production of hormones can trigger the development of osteoporosis as described beneath:
- Reproductive hormones: The production of estrogen decreases in women after menopause. The reduction in estrogen production in postmenopausal women can accelerate bone loss and make the bones porous. Breast cancer can also cause a decline in estrogen production which accelerates bone loss, leading to osteoporosis. 
- The risk of osteoporosis increases in men as well when they develop imbalances in the reproductive hormones. There is a gradual reduction in the production of testosterone in men as their age increases. The treatment for prostate cancer can also reduce testosterone levels.
- Reduced testosterone production can affect bone formation. It can also make the muscles weaker which reduces the support that muscle provides to the bones. This can increase the risk of osteoporosis as well as fractures.
- Thyroid hormones: Excessive production of thyroid hormones can lead to a faster bone loss. This may occur if the thyroid gland is overactive due to a condition called hyperthyroidism. Women who are receiving thyroid hormones for the management of hypothyroidism can also develop osteoporosis, especially when they take higher doses of the hormonal medications over a long period of time. 
- Other hormones: the risk of osteoporosis is also associated with the hormonal imbalances caused due to the diseases linked to the adrenal and parathyroid glands.
3. Dietary factors
- Reduced calcium intake: A lack of adequate amounts of calcium in the diet plays a crucial role in the development of osteoporosis. A low calcium supply contributes to diminished bone density and early bone loss, increasing the risk of fractures.
- Eating disorders: Women who restrict their food intake or resort to crash dieting to lose weight are likely to ignore their nutritional requirements. The lack of calcium and vitamin D in their diet can lead to osteoporosis at an early age.
- Gastrointestinal surgery: Women who have undergone a surgical procedure to reduce the size of the stomach or a part of the intestine are more likely to develop a deficiency of calcium and vitamin D.  These surgeries limit the surface area available for the absorption of nutrients which can lead to a risk of osteoporosis and other diseases linked to nutritional deficiencies.
4. Use of medications
Long-term use of some medications can interfere with the bone-building processes and cause osteoporosis. Some of these medications include:
- Oral and injectable corticosteroids such as cortisone and prednisone
- Anti-epilepsy medications used for treating seizures
- Antacids used for the management of peptic ulcers and GERD
- Chemotherapy drugs for patients with cancer
5. Lifestyle choices
Unhealthy lifestyle choices can make women more prone to develop osteoporosis at a younger age. Examples include:
Smoking: The incidence of osteoporosis is higher in smokers than in non-smokers. Smoking triggers inflammation and wear and tear in the bones and joints making them vulnerable to bone loss.
Caffeine consumption: Excessive intake of coffee or other caffeinated beverages can make the bones weak and porous thus causing osteoporosis. 
6. Existing medical conditions
The risk of osteoporosis is higher in women who have medical problems such as:
- Celiac disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Malabsorption syndrome
- Multiple myeloma
- Rheumatoid arthritis
With knowledge and healthy lifestyle choices, it is possible to avoid the development of osteoporosis. Women should be aware of what makes them more prone to develop this condition. You can take steps to avoid the risk factors so that you can prevent fractures and enjoy a healthy and active life.