Understanding Osteoporosis: Causes, Effects, and Management

Published by Sarah Spencer on 12 June 2024

Osteoporosis is a significant health concern affecting millions of people worldwide, particularly postmenopausal women. This condition, characterized by weakened bones and an increased risk of fractures, often develops silently until a fracture occurs, making early awareness and intervention crucial.

What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis, derived from the Greek words "osteo" meaning bone and "poros" meaning pore, literally translates to "porous bone." It is a progressive bone disease where bone mineral density (BMD) and bone mass decrease, and the structural integrity of bone deteriorates, leading to an increased risk to fractures. Common fracture sites include the hip, spine, and wrist.

Who gets it?

In the UK, osteoporosis is a common concern, affecting approximately 3 million people. Statistics reveal that one in three women and one in five men over the age of 50 will experience a fracture due to osteoporosis in their lifetime. Moreover, fractures resulting from osteoporosis contribute substantially to long term illness and death rates in the elderly population.

Bone Density and Menopause

Bone density refers to the amount of bone mineral in bone tissue. It is a crucial determinant of bone strength and is often measured using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scans. Peak bone density is usually reached in early adulthood, after which bone resorption (breakdown) slightly exceeds bone formation, leading to a gradual decrease in bone mass.

Menopause significantly accelerates bone loss due to the decline in oestrogen levels. Oestrogen is a hormone that plays a pivotal role in maintaining bone density. During menopause, typically occurring between the ages of 45 and 55, the reduction in oestrogen production can lead to a rapid decline in BMD, increasing the risk of osteoporosis.

The Role of Oestrogen

Oestrogen helps to protect bones by promoting the activity of osteoblasts, the cells responsible for bone formation, and inhibiting the activity of osteoclasts, the cells responsible for bone resorption. When oestrogen levels drop during menopause, this balance is disrupted, leading to an increase in bone resorption and a decrease in bone formation, resulting overall in bone loss.

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is prescribed to alleviate menopausal symptoms, but less so just to counteract the negative effects of reduced oestrogen levels on bone density. HRT can help maintain bone density and reduce the risk of fractures and is a first line treatment for osteoporosis treatment in women under 60.

Managing Osteoporosis

While osteoporosis cannot be completely cured, there are several strategies to manage the condition and reduce the risk of fractures:

  1. Nutrition: Adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D is essential for bone health. Dairy products, leafy green vegetables, and fortified foods are good sources of calcium. Sun exposure and supplements can help maintain adequate vitamin D levels.

  2. Exercise: Weight-bearing exercises such as walking, jogging, and strength training can help maintain and improve bone density. Balance and flexibility exercises like yoga can reduce the risk of falls.

  3. Medications: Several medications are available to treat osteoporosis, including bisphosphonates, selective oestrogen receptor modulators (SERMs), and parathyroid hormone-related protein (PTHrP) analogues. These medications can help slow bone loss, increase bone density, and reduce fracture risk.

  4. Lifestyle Modifications: Avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can positively impact bone health. Ensuring a safe living environment to prevent falls is also crucial for those with osteoporosis. .

  5. Regular Monitoring: Regular bone monitoring with DEXA scans can help monitor the progression of osteoporosis and the effectiveness of treatment strategies in those diagnosed with the condition


Osteoporosis is a prevalent condition that poses a significant risk to bone health, particularly in postmenopausal women. Understanding the impact of oestrogen on bone density and the potential benefits and risks of HRT can help in making informed decisions about managing the condition. A combination of nutrition, exercise, medication, lifestyle changes, and regular monitoring can effectively manage osteoporosis and reduce the risk of fractures, enhancing the quality of life for those affected. Early intervention and proactive management are key to combating this silent yet impactful disease.