Smoking Increases Risk of Osteoporosis and Bone Loss

You might be aware smoking increases the risk of lung cancer — but did you know you are also more at risk for osteoporosis if you smoke?

Hand holds lit cigarette

Osteoporosis causes bones to become brittle and weak over time. The disease increases the risk of broken bones as a result of a fall or injury. If the condition is severe, a person can even break a bone by sneezing, coughing or making small movements.

Researchers first discovered a link between cigarette smoking and osteoporosis more than two decades ago. Since then, research confirms a direct relationship between tobacco use and bone loss. Researchers have found:

  • Risk of hip fracture in people who smoke versus those who do not smoke is:
    • 17 percent greater at age 60
    • 71 percent greater at age 80
    • 108 percent greater at age 90
  • Risk of hip fracture is lower in former smokers than in those who continued to smoke (suggesting that quitting sooner rather than later can slow the rate of bone loss)

How does it happen? The substances in cigarettes can cause bone loss because they:

  • Limit the body’s capacity to absorb calcium from food sources
  • Make it harder for the body to produce osteoblasts, the bone-forming cells that grow new bone
  • Cause estrogen, a hormone critical for healthy bones, to break down
  • Reduce blood supply to the bones

Help in Quitting Smoking

The best thing a smoker can do to reduce the risk of osteoporosis is to quit smoking. Quitting smoking, even if it happens later in life, can reduce bone loss. 

There are also many reasons besides reducing the risk of osteoporosis to quit smoking: smoking is the number one cause of preventable death in the U.S., and people who smoke are at greater risk of cancer, heart disease and stroke.

The Great American Smokeout

The Great American Smokeout is a one-day event designed to help smokers quit. It is held on the third Thursday in November each year and is sponsored by the American Cancer Society. While a person can decide to quit at any time of the year, this day is unique in that it offers extra encouragement, motivation and support by joining with others who also want to quit.

This year, if you are a smoker, consider quitting during The Great American Smokeout. Or if you have a family member or friend who smokes, share this information with them and encourage them to quit.

Other Ways to Reduce Osteoporosis Risk

In addition to quitting smoking, there are other steps you can take to help reduce your risk of osteoporosis:

  • Eat foods that are naturally high in calcium such as dairy products and dark green, leafy vegetables. Also look for calcium-fortified foods and beverages. If your doctor recommends it, you can also take calcium tablets.
  • Engage in exercise like lifting weights, jogging, walking, yoga, aerobics or swimming.
  • Limit your use of alcohol. Alcohol interferes with the balance of calcium in the body. It also impacts bone-protecting hormones and the body’s ability to absorb vitamins.

Finally, if you are a current or former smoker, ask your doctor about a bone density test. The results can predict how likely you are to fracture a bone in the future — and having this information could be helpful in quitting for good. Also, recognize that quitting smoking can be hard. If you want to quit, talk to your doctor about resources that could help you, such as prescription medications and counseling.