No single cause for osteoporosis has been identified. However, certain factors seem to play a role in the development of osteoporosis. These factors are called “risk factors” because each factor influences the risk of developing the disease. The Osteoporosis Society of Canada suggests you begin to evaluate your own risk by reviewing the common risk factors below and determining which ones apply to you. The most common risk factors are:

• Female
• Age 50 or older
• Past menopause
• Prolonged sex hormone deficiencies
• Ovaries removed or menopause before age 45
• Not enough calcium in your diet
• Limited exposure to sunlight or insufficient vitamin D in your diet
• Not enough physical activity
• Family history of osteoporosis
• Thin body frame or “small boned”
• White or Eurasian ancestry
• Smoker
• Caffeine intake (consistently more than three cups a day of coffee, tea, and cola)
• Alcohol (consistently more than two drinks per day)
• Excess use of certain medications (cortisone, prednisone, anti-convulsants, thyroid hormone, and aluminum-containing antacids).

One way to use this assessment is to realize that the more risk factors you have, the greater your risk of developing osteoporosis. Specifically, if you have four or more of the common risk factors listed above, the Osteoporosis Society of Canada advises you to discuss being tested for bone density loss with your physician. There are also “stronger predictors” of bone density loss. If one or more of these stronger predictors applies to you, the Osteoporosis Society of Canada recommends that you talk to your physician about being tested for bone loss. These are as follows:

• A strong family history of osteoporosis
• Prolonged use of cortisone or prednisone (glucocorticoids)
• Primary hyperparathyroidism
• Amenorrhea (missed periods)
• Early or surgical menopause (before age 45)
• Decreased estrogen levels in women or decreased testosterone levels in men.

Finally, assessing your risk factors can help identify those that you can change. Some of these factors are a result of heredity, while others we call lifestyle factors. By making changes in your lifestyle, like incorporating weight-bearing exercise, you are doing something to improve your bone health and lower your risk of developing osteoporosis.