Bone is living tissue that is constantly being broken down and replaced. Osteoporosis occurs when the creation of new bone doesn’t keep up with the rate of loss of old bone.

Osteoporosis affects men and women of all races. But white and Asian women — especially older women who are past menopause — are at highest risk. Medications, healthy diet and weight-bearing exercise can help prevent bone loss or strengthen already weak bones.

How your body ages can be the result of several factors: environmental influences, lack of exercise, stress, accident, illness, smoking, diet, etc. But when it comes to your bones, genetics can play a fundamental role in good or bad bone health.

Genetics offer us a map of our future simply by offering the examples of our parents or grandparents experience. If osteoporosis is evident in at least two generations, then the possibility that you may also develop the condition around a similar age, is unfortunately rather likely. The weakening of bones and bone fractures have definitively been linked to family history. Those with a small, frail body structure are at the greatest risk of suffering decreased bone density event at an early age.

Research has found that there are around 56 genetic variants that can be linked to osteoporosis – but basic genetic risk factors include:

  • Female gender
  • Ethnicity—Caucasian and Asian
  • Body Size—Small frame, low body weight (less than 125 pounds)
  • Optimal bone density not reached in young adulthood
  • Family history—including tallness, thinness
  • Maternal and paternal history of osteoporosis and hip fracture

Osteoporosis is a common disease characterised by low bone mass, micro-architectural deterioration of bone tissue and an increased risk of fracture. Twin and family studies have shown that genetic factors play an important role in regulating bone mineral density and fracture risk. An important aim of future work will be to define how the genes which regulate bone mass, interact with each other and with environmental variables to cause osteoporosis in individual patients. If that aim can be achieved then there is every prospect that preventative therapy could be targeted to those at greatest risk of osteoporosis, before fractures have occurred.

What to do if you suspect you may develop hereditary osteoporosis

An individual’s peak bone mass is typically achieved by the age of 25-30. If you feel you are on the danger list, it’s wise to take the following precautions:

  • Consult your doctor to monitor the growth and stamina of your bones as you age. It’s important to know your genetic predisposition to osteoporosis. It is estimated that about 75% of an individual’s peak bone mass is influenced by genetics. If one is genetically predisposed to osteoporosis, then exercise, diet are even more important.
  • Your first course of action would be to follow the correct diet to alleviate factors that may contribute to the condition developing. This would include ensuring an adequate calcium and Vit D intake. Calcium intake is critical in keeping bones strong. Approximately 70% of people do not ingest adequate amounts of calcium or vitamin D – the latter being critical as it helps to ensure absorption and retention of calcium in the bones.

NOFSA recommends 1000-1200 mg Calcium (food and/or supplements), and 400-600IU vit D per day.

  • Calcium can be found in many everyday foods such as: dairy products – milk, yogurt, cheese; dark green vegetables – spinach; grains, beans and some fish. Vitamin D on the other hand, comes straight from sunshine! You can also get it from fatty fish, liver, and fortified foods like milk, orange juice and cereals – or of course Vitamin D supplements.
  • Your next course of action would be to ensure that you get enough exercise – and enough of the right exercise. Weight-bearing exercise that works the bones and muscles against gravity have been shown to effectively increase bone density in the spine. It is recommended that an individual perform 20 to 30 minutes of weightbearing exercise 3 to 4 times weekly to increase bone mass.
  • However, if you have already established that you are experiencing hereditary bone loss, then care must be taken when exercising especially with regard to posture and body mechanics. Activities that require twisting of the spine or bending forward from the waist (such as conventional sit-ups or toe touches), as well as high impact exercise e.g. running, aerobics, may increase fracture risk – brisk walking remains one of the safer options.
  • And here’s a biggie – avoid smoking. Smoking – with or without hereditary complications is a singularly clear risk factor in contributing to early osteoporosis – even in individuals who may have a healthy life map of bones to start with.
  • Taking the tests – a bone mineral density (BMD) test measures an individual’s bone density and compares it to the densities of other people of the same age and sex. Not only does a BMD test indicate whether someone has a normal, low or osteoporotic bone density level, it also indicates if someone is at increased risk of sustaining a fracture. Based on the results, a doctor may prescribe medication.

NOFSA (National Osteoporosis Foundation South Africa)

NOFSA is the only non-profit, voluntary health organisation dedicated to promoting lifelong bone health. We focus on reducing the widespread prevalence of Osteoporosis while working to find a cure for the disease, supporting research and developing programmes of education and advocacy.

Find out more about our work at