Don’t believe everything you hear about osteoporosis.
We explore the reality behind some common myths and misconceptions about the disease.
Osteoporosis affects 3 million people in the UK alone, causing 500,000 fractures annually.¹ Yet bone health remains a commonly misunderstood and underappreciated topic.
We explore 8 of the most common myths surrounding osteoporosis, revealing the truth behind these misconceptions.
As you get older, your risk of developing osteoporosis does increase. From around the age of 35, bone mass and bone mineral density will start to decline, resulting in weaker and more fragile bones.
However, it is a common misconception that osteoporosis only affects older individuals.
There are a number of other risk factors that can contribute towards the development of osteoporosis, meaning people of any age can develop osteoporosis. These include family history of bone-related disease, being underweight, menopause under 45, heavy smoking or alcohol consumption, and certain cancer treatments.
Osteoporosis awareness should ideally begin from a young age, especially if you have a family history of the disease. A healthy lifestyle consisting of a nutritious diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, regular exercise and not smoking, will help maintain bone mass, and reduce your long-term risk of osteoporosis.
It is a common misconception that if you don’t display symptoms then you don’t have osteoporosis. However, this could not be further from the truth.
Osteoporosis is often called a ‘silent disease’, as it very rarely exhibits early symptoms. Frustratingly, osteoporosis is usually only diagnosed after someone has already experienced a fracture.
It is important to understand the risk factors associated with osteoporosis in order to enable earlier diagnosis and even prevention. You can also check your osteoporosis risk using the Royal Osteoporosis Society risk checker.
If you have any concerns, you can talk to your GP, who can refer you for a DEXA scan. These scans can diagnose or assess your risk of developing osteoporosis.
Studies have shown that hormones play a key role in regulating bone density. When oestrogen and progesterone levels decline during perimenopause and menopause, bone mineral density also decreases. In turn, this can result in an increased risk of osteoporosis.
However, changes in hormone levels are just one of numerous factors that can contribute towards the development of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis can affect anyone and everyone, regardless of their gender or hormone levels.
In fact, 20% of men over the age of 50 develop osteoporosis² – osteoporosis is certainly not only a women’s disease!
Many people with osteoporosis live long and normal lives. Not everyone experiences fractures or long-term complications.
However, osteoporosis should not be underestimated. Osteoporosis patients can experience back pain, stooped posture, and a loss in height over a period of time.
Fractures are common in osteoporosis patients, typically in the hips, wrists or spine. These can be extremely serious and debilitating, affecting both the physical and mental health of many people.
Consuming calcium products such as milk are important for building healthy bones. The NHS recommends most adults should aim for 700mg of calcium per day.
However, calcium intake alone cannot prevent osteoporosis. Your bones require many different nutrients to maintain your bone mineral density. Protein, vitamin D and K, and magnesium are just some of the nutrients important for reducing your osteoporosis risk.
There are also many other risk factors for osteoporosis aside from nutrition. Family history of bone-related diseases, taking certain medications, and changes in hormone levels, can all increase your risk of osteoporosis.
Osteopenia is the stage before osteoporosis, where your bone mineral density is lower than average for your demographic, but not low enough to be classed as osteoporosis.
It is a common misconception by osteopenia patients that they will definitely develop osteoporosis. While this is a possibility, osteopenia does not always lead to osteoporosis, and some osteopenia patients never progress to this more serious diagnosis.
There are many ways you can slow the rate of bone loss and help improve your bone mineral density to prevent osteoporosis. A nutritious diet and regular exercise can aid these processes. Low-intensity vibration therapy has also been shown as an effective way to prevent osteoporosis.³
Osteoporosis is usually tested using a DEXA (Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry) scan.
DEXA scans are quick and completely painless, taking around 10 minutes to complete.
The scan uses a very low level of ionising radiation to measure bone mineral density – less than a standard X-rays.⁴
In the UK, DEXA scans are normally covered by the NHS if you are over 50 and/or have risk factors. You can speak to your GP to see if you would be eligible for a free scan.
Private scans are usually around £200 – if you are interested in having a private DEXA scan, we offer a 50% DEXA reimbursement scheme to UK Marodyne LiV customers.
Find out more about getting a DEXA scan
Contrary to popular belief, many osteoporosis patients never sustain a fracture or an injury. Having osteoporosis does not mean that breaking a bone is inevitable.
Reducing your risk of falls is one way you can reduce your fracture risk:
Discover more NHS tips for fall-proofing your home
Now these common myths have been busted, we can look at the facts. Find out everything you need to know about osteoporosis in our guide
1. Age UK. (2022). https://www.ageuk.org.uk/information-advice/health-wellbeing/conditions-illnesses/osteoporosis/
2. Royal Osteoporosis Society. (2023). International Women’s Day: Let’s end the ageist stereotypes that fuel the most insidious women’s health condition. https://theros.org.uk/latest-news/international-women-s-day-let-s-end-the-ageist-stereotypes-that-fuel-the-most-insidious-women-s-health-condition/
3. Pagnotti, G.M., Styner, M., Uzer, G. et al.Combating osteoporosis and obesity with exercise: leveraging cell mechanosensitivity. Nat Rev Endocrinol 15, 339–355 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41574-019-0170-1
4. Mettler, Fred A Jr et al. “Effective doses in radiology and diagnostic nuclear medicine: a catalog.” Radiology 248,1 (2008): 254-63. https://pubs.rsna.org/doi/10.1148/radiol.2481071451