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The causes of weak bones can range from osteoporosis to bone cancer. Some causes include a vitamin D deficiency or calcium deficiency, conditions such as anorexia nervosa and Cushing’s disease, and certain medications or chemical poisoning. Risk factors for weak bones include being female, being white or Asian, and being older than age 45. Those who are thin, exercise little, and who smoke are also more likely to have weak bones.
Bones weaken in two ways. There is the actual loss of bone, and there is bone thinning. With bone loss, the actual density of the bones is reduced. Mild bone loss is called osteopenia, and serious bone loss is called osteoporosis.
Bone loss is the cause of weak bones because of conditions such as rickets and vitamin D deficiency. Other possible causes of bone loss can include hyperthyroidism, over-consumption of caffeine or alcohol, and having a sedentary lifestyle. Using progesterone contraceptives and entering menopause before age 40 can also be causes of bone loss, as can menopause itself.
With bone thinning, the bones actually become thinner, with the loss of bone occurring faster than it is replenished. Bones rebuild themselves daily, and in a healthy body the rate of loss is less than the rate of new bone. In many conditions, bone thinning eventually leads to actual bone loss. As with bone loss, aging and menopause are common causes.
The reason bone thinning and bone loss is so closely connected to menopause and age in women is because of the link between estrogen levels and the risk of developing osteopenia. Research does seem to indicate that bone loss slows five to seven years after menopause. It is important that women practice good nutrition, exercise, and take other preventative measures throughout their 20s, 30s, and 40s because of the risk of bone loss during menopause.
To prevent weak bones, avoid alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco. Over-consumption of salt, steroid drugs, and high levels of stress may also impact bone health. As part of prevention, appropriate amounts of sleep to allow the body to regenerate is also important.
Heavy metals in the environment, such as aluminum, mercury, and lead, may also cause bone loss by interfering with the body’s ability to absorb calcium. These are commonly found in products such as deodorant, antacids, and even in water. Prevention should include an awareness of this and efforts to avoid unnecessary exposure,