Genetics can play a significant part in osteoporosis – probably more than you would expect!
From family history to specific genes, the role of genes should not be overlooked. We explore the science behind the genetic factors which contribute to osteoporosis, and what you can do to reduce your risk.
In short, yes it can be.
Genetics play an important role in determining your bone health, with many inherited factors affecting how your body produces and maintains bone.
You are generally more likely to develop osteoporosis if you have a family history of the disease, or if any of your close relatives have received a diagnosis. Your GP or doctor can refer you for a DEXA (Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry) scan if you have a family history of osteoporosis.
While bone loss is often only associated with age, recent studies have shown the rate we lose bone has a high level of heritability. In other words, the rate you lose bone can be closely linked to your genetics.
Estimates from family and twin studies have suggested as much as 60-80% of bone mass is related to genetics.¹
Studies have shown heritability is an especially significant risk factor for osteoporosis in younger people.
But what are some of the genetic factors which impact our bone health?
Receptor genes are responsible for how efficiently your body absorbs key minerals.
Calcium and vitamin D receptor genes vary from person to person. Some people’s receptor genes are more responsive and better at responding to calcium and vitamin D. If your body is inherently less responsive, you may be more susceptible to developing osteoporosis.²
Getting enough calcium and vitamin D is very important to your bone health, especially if you have a family history of osteoporosis. You can find more information about ways to incorporate calcium and vitamin D into your diet on the NHS website.
Changes to your hormone levels, such as during menopause, are heavily linked with osteoporosis. Estrogen plays a particularly important role in calcium absorption. Lower levels of estrogen will result in less calcium being taken in by your bones, even if you’re consuming the correct amount in your diet.³
Much like receptor genes, hormone levels vary from person to person and are influenced by genetics.
Lower levels of estrogen and progesterone will result in decreased bone metabolism, directly reducing bone mineral density and mass. This may happen earlier for someone genetically predisposed to an early menopause.⁴
Many osteoporosis patients will experience fractures because of their weak bones. The most common fractures seen in osteoporosis patients are in the hip, wrist and spine.
If you are genetically predisposed to low bone mass and mineral density, you are more likely to experience a fracture. Whilst osteoporosis fractures are linked to genetics, studies have shown that as we age environmental risk factors, such as falling, become a larger influence on fracture risk.⁵
Genetic factors can also play a role in overall skeletal mass and bone strength.
Generally, due to overall lower bone mass and smaller bones, women are more likely to develop osteoporosis than men.
From the age of 50, an estimated 50% of women develop osteoporosis, in comparison to 20% of men.⁶
Whilst a family history may increase your risk, osteoporosis is not always inevitable. A combination of genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors are all involved.
This means even if you don’t have a family history of osteoporosis, there’s still a chance you could develop the disease. Fortunately, there’s lots you can do to reduce and manage your risk.
Eating a balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals can do wonders for your bone health! Calcium, vitamin D, vitamin K and magnesium are of particular importance.
The Royal Osteoporosis Society share some great tips for eating well for your bones in their guide to nutrition for bones.
Regular exercise has been shown to slow the rate of bone loss and increase overall bone strength. Weightbearing exercises tend to be most effective as they give your bones the ‘impacts’ they need to grow strong.⁷
Originally developed for NASA astronauts, Low-intensity Vibration therapy is supported by over 35 years of scientific research. Scientists have discovered standing on a Low-intensity Vibration platform such as the Marodyne LiV has been proven to prevent and combat osteoporosis.
Find out more about vibration therapy in our complete guide
1. Huang, S., Ng, G. C.-T., & Song, Y.-Q. (2015). Genetic Disorders Associated with Osteoporosis. InTech. doi: 10.5772/59961
2. John A. Eisman, Genetics of Osteoporosis, Endocrine Reviews, Volume 20, Issue 6, 1 December 1999, Pages 788–804, https://doi.org/10.1210/edrv.20.6.0384
3. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 51, Issue 6, 1 December 1980, Pages 1359–1364, https://doi.org/10.1210/jcem-51-6-1359
4. Svejme, O., Ahlborg, H. G., Nilsson, J. Å., & Karlsson, M. K. (2012). Early menopause and risk of osteoporosis, fracture and mortality: a 34‐year prospective observational study in 390 women. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 119(7), 810-816.
5. Stuart H. Ralston, André G. Uitterlinden, Genetics of Osteoporosis, Endocrine Reviews, Volume 31, Issue 5, 1 October 2010, Pages 629–662, https://doi.org/10.1210/er.2009-0044
6. 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/
7. Benedetti, Maria Grazia et al. “The Effectiveness of Physical Exercise on Bone Density in Osteoporotic Patients.” BioMed research international vol. 2018 4840531. 23 Dec. 2018, doi:10.1155/2018/4840531