August 29, 2014
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Study: Adult factors influence bone health, osteoporosis risk

Worried it's too late to prevent osteoporosis as you age? Turns out your lifestyle as an adult may have more of an impact than early-in-life factors, meaning it may still be possible to reduce your risk of the bone-thinning disease, even in middle age.

In a study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, researchers from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne set out to compare the impact of a number of fetal, childhood and adult factors upon bone size and bone mineral density later in life. Both measures of bone health are considered markers for osteoporosis, a condition that results in weak, brittle bones that are easily fractured. Age is considered a major risk factor for this condition, with women being twice as likely as men to experience osteoporosis-related bone fractures. Aging men who have low testosterone are also at higher risk.

But while earlier research has suggested a link between bone health later in life and birth weight, this latest study indicates that the things you do as an adult have a greater impact.

The researchers collected data from 389 British adults who had been followed from birth as part of a long-term population study. They looked at factors including birth weight, whether they were breast-fed, childhood infections, social class at birth and through life, adult height and weight, the use of hormone replacement therapy and lifestyle factors such as alcohol consumption, smoking, diet and exercise. For the 218 women included in the study, the researchers also considered age of first menstrual period and reproductive history.

The measures of bone health were taken when the participants were between the ages of 49 and 51.

While the researchers found a small degree of association between early-in-life factors and bone health in middle age, adult factors accounted for more variation in bone mineral density.

In men, fetal factors such as birth weight accounted for 6% of the variation in bone mineral density, while they only accounted for 1% of the differences in women. But adult lifestyle accounted for more than 10% of the variation in bone density for men and 6% for women.

"Most of the variation in each of the indicators for both sexes was contributed either directly or indirectly by adult lifestyle and achieved adult height and weight," the researchers wrote.

Among the various adult factors that played a role, adult weight accounted for 25% of the variation for both men and women, while low vitamin C intake was linked to lower hip bone density for men and more pregnancies was associated with lower hip bone density for women. For men, alcohol consumption was also associated with bone size.

So with adult factors playing such a large role in bone health, what can you do to reduce your risk of osteoporosis? While there are no guarantees, making sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D, exercising regularly including weight-bearing exercises, limiting alcohol, not smoking and eating a well-balanced diet can all help. Talk to your doctor for more information.


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