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Osteoporosis, the gradual loss of bone density, is far more common among women, but it is a growing health problem for millions of men as well, according to researchers at Duke University Medical Center.

This gradual loss of bone density increases the risk of serious injuries, such as hip fractures. Although nine times more women than men in the U.S. (18 million vs. 2 million) have the condition, there is a growing awareness that osteoporosis poses a serious health problem for men as well.

Tom Weber, M.D., in Duke's division of endocrinology, metabolism and nutrition, said that recent research into comparative mortality rates shows that men and women both face serious risks from osteoporotic fractures.

"In some ways it's more serious for men," Weber explained. "Several recent studies have shown that men are at higher risk for death following a hip fracture. That risk may be as high as 40 percent within the first year after fracture, when it's on the order of 20 percent for women."

Weber said research has not been able to explain conclusively why this disparity in mortality rates exists between the genders.

"Part of it has to do with the fact that men have other diseases, often more serious diseases, when they fracture than women do," he said. "Some studies have shown this to be the case, but others haven't. So it's unclear why there's a higher mortality rate among men."

According to Weber, men have several established risk factors for developing osteoporosis.

"Family history appears to be very important," he said. "A family history of hip fracture in the mother increases a man's risk for vertebral fractures. If you take glucocorticords, prednisone for example, for a variety of conditions, your risk goes up. In addition, men with low testosterone levels, either as a result of a pathologic process or as a result of medications, are at higher risk. So are men who smoke and who drink excessive amounts of alcohol."

As for prevention, Weber says building bone strength through exercise and diet, with supplements if needed, is important for everyone.

"The recommendation for both men and women up to age 50 is 1,000 milligrams a day of calcium and 400 international units a day of Vitamin D," Weber said. "After age 50, these recommendations are increased to 1,500 milligrams of calcium and 800 international units of Vitamin D."

Many physicians now recommend bone density testing for men aged 70 and over, to help determine their risk for osteoporotic fracture.

"Two million men in this country have osteoporosis," said Weber. "The risk of hip fracture in men will increase by 300 percent by 2050, more so than the increase that will occur in women. This sort of information is educating both the medical community and the lay public as to the importance of identifying and treating men with osteoporosis."