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Push to screen men for osteoporosis

Study finds current, former smokers face higher risk

Gary Hunter works out regularly. But not long ago, he could barely even walk.

While trying to pick up an oxygen tank, Hunter snapped a vertebrae in his back.

"It hurt to walk to the bathroom. It hurt to sit down and get up. It hurt to turn your head," said Hunter.

He was shocked to learn that his broken back was caused by osteoporosis. But recent research from National Jewish Health shows that many men, especially smokers, are at high risk for osteoporosis.

Dr. Elizabeth Regan studied more than three thousand current or former smokers, testing their bone density, with surprising results.

"We actually found that men were slightly more likely to have low bone density, and that they were slightly more likely to have vertebral fractures," said Regan. "The big surprise to us was that it wasn't just women."

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, more than half of all adults in the U.S. suffer from either osteoporosis or low bone mass. While the risk is well known in women, studies find one in four men over the age of 50 will break a bone as a result of these conditions.

Current guidelines put out by the U.S. Preventive Task Force recommend bone density screening for women only. Regan is pushing for screenings to be expanded to include men.

"I think that men who have been, who are current smokers, or have been heavy smokers in the past and may have stopped should be screened for low bone density," said Regan.

Experts say prevention is important for women and men. That includes eating a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D and getting regular weight bearing exercise, such as brisk walking, tai chi, and strength training.

Through lifestyle changes and medication, Hunter's bone density has improved. He's getting stronger every day.

"If there's a message, take care of yourself and, you know, when you have a problem, a medical problem, get some place and get it taken care of," said Hunter.

To learn more about osteoporosis, click here.