A person with osteoporosis has weakened bones that are more likely to break. Although the condition is not reversible, people can prevent further bone loss and rebuild bones with medication, a nutrient-dense diet, and weight bearing exercise.

Bones consist of living tissue. As these tissues break down, the body discards them and creates new ones to replace them.

When a person has osteoporosis, there is a disruption to this balance. People lose too much old bone, do not create enough new bone, or both.

The condition typically progresses gradually over a number of years, and a person usually only receives a diagnosis after they have broken a bone. A doctor can also diagnose osteoporosis using a bone density scan, such as a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry scan, in people at an increased risk of the condition.

Read more to learn whether or not osteoporosis is reversible, how a person can maintain bone mass, and when to contact a doctor.

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In some cases, a person may be able to reverse osteoporosis.

Some lifestyle strategies can prevent future bone loss and reduce the risk of fractures. Additionally, certain medications may help a person rebuild bone mass, essentially reversing osteoporosis.

There are several ways a person can prevent bone loss. These include eating a nutritious diet, doing regular exercise, taking calcium and vitamin D supplements, avoiding excess alcohol and smoking, and minimizing steroid use.

Eating a nutritious diet

Eating a varied, nutrient-dense diet is important for bone health.

It is especially important to include foods rich in vitamin D and calcium. Vitamin D increases calcium absorption, so the two supplements are most effective when people take them together.

Although calcium and vitamin D are most commonly associated with strong bones, they are not the only nutrients that contribute to bone health. A 2015 analysis of a large osteoporosis study found that fruits, vegetables, seafood, and dairy products are beneficial for healthy bones.

Taking supplements

If a person has osteoporosis, they may benefit from taking calcium and vitamin D supplements. A 2016 meta-analysis of osteoporosis studies found that people who took these supplements were 15% less likely to have bone fractures.

It is important to include calcium and vitamin D from food sources. Sardines, tofu, and dairy products are all good sources of calcium. People can get vitamin D from trout, salmon, and mushrooms. They can also get it from small amounts of sun exposure.

Doing regular exercise

Weight bearing exercise and resistance training are essential for maintaining bone density, especially as people get older. Because bones are made of living, changing tissues, they can respond to change. When under stress, for example, during exercise, they react by building more bone tissue.

In addition to maintaining bone density, regular exercise can strengthen a person’s muscles and improve coordination, reducing their risk of falls.

People can try:

Avoiding excessive alcohol and smoking

Stopping smoking and reducing alcohol intake are both associated with healthier bones. In general, avoiding these also lowers a person’s risk of other illnesses.

Doctors treat osteoporosis with the aim of strengthening bones and preventing fractures. However, no treatment methods can fully reverse the condition.

A doctor will usually perform various tests to decide on the best course of treatment for osteoporosis. In addition, they will consider a person’s age, sex, and medical history.

Medications prescribed for osteoporosis can include:

Bisphosphonates

These are common medications that slow the rate at which bones break down. They help bones maintain their density, lowering a person’s risk of breaks.

People can take bisphosphonates in the form of tablets or an injection.

Types of bisphosphonates include:

Hormone replacement therapy

Doctors sometimes use hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to help treat menopause symptoms.

While HRT can also improve bone strength, doctors generally do not use it to treat osteoporosis alone. They avoid this because HRT can increase a person’s risk of stroke, venous thromboembolism, and certain cancers.

Selective estrogen receptor modulators

Selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) affect the bones similarly to the hormone estrogen, preventing bone loss.

Research has shown SERMs can help prevent fractures of the vertebrae, the bones that make up the spine, but they have limitations in preventing other types of breaks. They can also cause side effects, so people should be careful when using them, especially for extended periods.

Raloxifene is the only SERM available to treat osteoporosis.

Parathyroid hormone

The parathyroid hormone regulates calcium levels in bones.

Parathyroid treatments, such as a medication called teriparatide, stimulate cells that create new bone. This can increase bone density.

A doctor may also prescribe denosumab (Prolia), a monoclonal antibody drug. They will administer it as an injection once every six months.

Learn more about medications used to treat osteoporosis.

Osteopenia is a condition in which a person has lower bone density than usual for their age. However, it is not low enough for doctors to consider it osteoporosis.

Osteopenia is the stage before osteoporosis. If left untreated, it can progress.

Osteoporosis is more severe than osteopenia. It weakens bones to the point of making them more likely to break.

Learn more about the differences between osteoporosis and osteopenia.

Osteoporosis does not usually cause visible symptoms, which means people are often unaware they have the condition until they have broken a bone.

To detect bone loss early, the Bone Health and Osteoporosis Foundation recommends that people contact a doctor and receive a bone density test if they:

  • are going through or have been through menopause
  • have pain in their back from a possible vertebrae fracture
  • have experienced a fracture over the age of 50
  • are a female over the age of 65 or a male over the age of 70
  • have lost height of a half inch or more over the course of one year
  • have an inflammatory or autoimmune condition
  • take medications associated with bone loss

In some cases, a person can reverse osteoporosis bone loss with certain medications.

People can maintain bone health by eating a nutritious diet, doing weight bearing exercise, and taking calcium and vitamin D supplements. In some cases, a doctor will prescribe medication to prevent future bone loss and reduce their risk of fractures.