Osteoporosis is the most common type of bone disease. An estimated 10 million Americans have it, and another 18 million have low bone mass that may eventually lead to osteoporosis if untreated.  People with osteoporosis have brittle bones that break easily; a leading cause of disability in seniors. But is osteoporosis hereditary?    

The National Institutes of Health tell us that the leading cause of osteoporosis (which occurs more often to women over 50 than any other population group) is decreased estrogen after menopause. Osteoporosis can happen to men and women of any race or age. Certain genetic factors may increase risks, affect bone growth, bone mass and calcium reabsorption.  People with a family history for osteoporosis carry more risk than those that don't as do Caucasion and Asian women and people with small frames and low body weight.  All of these are hereditary.

Genetic studies show how traits and characteristics are inherited from generation to generation.  Genes that cause disease can be inherited.  A variety of genetic, endocrine, gastrointestinal, blood, and rheumatic disorders have been linked with an increased risk for osteoporosis including hyperthyroidism, chronic lung disease, endometriosis, malignancy, chronic hepatic or renal disease, hyperparathyroidism, vitamin D deficiency, and Cushing's disease.  If your family members have these diseases, there's an increased chance that you might develop it, too.

While some of these diseases are directly associated with osteoporosis, sometimes its the medications used to treat these diseases that are the culprit.  For example, corticosteroids or chemotherapeutic medications used to treat arthritis or cancer (which may be caused partly by genetics) can increase risk for decreased bone mass.

The Journal of Clinical Endocrionoly and Metaboslim reports that some people may have a defect in a gene that regulates the amount of growth hormone their body produces.  This hormone influences how well bones develop and grow in infancy and early childhood and may be affected by environmental factors like nutrition.

Other researchers are looking at how genetics affect the way the body uses vitamin D, (essential for calcium absorption and bone strength) and how genetic mutations may alter hormonal, nutritional or chemical factors affecting bone strength and rate of bone loss.

One of the most encouraging studies indicates that even in the presence of genetic factors, diet, exercise, and lifestyle have a huge impact on decreasing osteoporosis.  The National Osteoporosis Foundation offers these five tips for preventing osteoporosis:

  • Get your daily recommended amounts of calcium and vitamin D
  • Engage in regular weight-bearing exercise
  • Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about bone health
  • When appropriate, have a bone density test, and take medication if needed


National Institutes of Health: http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Bone/Osteoporosis/osteoporosis_hoh.asp

National Osteoporosis Foundation: http://www.nof.org/prevention/index.htm

Medical News Today: The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism