There is no cure for osteoporosis, but treatment can help to slow or stop the loss of bone density and reduce the risk of fractures. A doctor may recommend medications, diet changes, exercise, and steps to prevent fracturing a bone.
According to the National Institutes of Health, once a person’s bone density has declined, treatment cannot fully reverse it — but it can protect a person’s bone health going forward.
Preventing fractures is especially important as they may not heal properly in people with osteoporosis.
In this article, learn why there is no cure for osteoporosis and about the treatments that can prolong the strength of the bones.
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
Osteoporosis is not fully reversible, but bone regrowth may be possible in some cases.
The condition develops when a person starts losing bone density faster than their bone tissue can grow, resulting in more fragile bones. Once this process has started, it may not be possible to regrow all the lost bone.
All people lose bone density over time. It peaks around the age of 25–30 and then slowly declines with age. It is for this reason that regaining bone density in older age is challenging because bone loss is already taking place as part of the aging process.
However, if a person is younger or they have had osteoporosis for a shorter period of time, partial recovery may be possible. Bone can regrow, allowing a person to get closer to their peak bone density. This reduces the risk of developing osteoporosis later in life.
Natural and medical treatments can slow or stop bone loss from osteoporosis. This is important for preventing fractures, which can result in chronic pain and difficulty moving around if they do not heal well.
The aim of osteoporosis treatment is to prevent further loss of bone density, avoid injuries, and maintain a person’s mobility and independence.
Changes to routine and the foods a person eats can be an important part of osteoporosis treatment.
Diet can support bone health, improve muscle strength, and help a person maintain a healthy weight, all of which are beneficial for people with osteoporosis. A doctor or dietitian may recommend that a person focuses on:
- getting enough protein
- getting enough calcium from foods such as dairy products, leafy greens, and fortified cereals
- eating enough calories for a person’s weight, height, and activity level
Safe sun exposure can help people get enough vitamin D, which in turn helps the body absorb calcium.
There are some food sources of vitamin D, such as oily fish, but it is difficult to get enough from food alone. Exposure to sunlight can help a person obtain enough vitamin D. How much sunlight a person needs can depend on:
- where they live
- the time of year
- their skin tone, as it takes longer for people with darker skin to absorb vitamin D from the sun
A person should consult a doctor for advice on how long to spend in the sun.
Weight-bearing exercises help to improve bone density in younger people. In older adults, these can strengthen muscles and help with coordination, which reduces the risk of falls.
A doctor or physical therapist may suggest low-impact forms of weight-bearing exercises, such as:
- resistance training
People may need to avoid high-impact exercise, as well as motions that twist, bend, or flex the spine. They should discuss the best options with a medical professional.
If relevant, a doctor may recommend that a person with osteoporosis try:
- consuming alcohol in moderation
- stopping smoking
- avoiding secondhand smoke
In cases where diet and lifestyle changes are not enough to counteract bone loss, a doctor may suggest osteoporosis medications. These work by slowing down bone loss, or increasing bone formation, in various ways. Medications include:
- parathyroid hormone analog
- RANKL inhibitor
The loss of estrogen that females experience during menopause substantially increases the risk of osteoporosis. Estrogen replacement therapy with pills, skin patches, or creams can help reduce this.
Alternatively, a doctor may suggest estrogen agonists/antagonists. These medications are not estrogen, but they have similar effects on some tissues while blocking estrogen in other tissues. This helps improve bone density.
In some cases, supplements can help a person get the nutrients they need to support bone health.
People who cannot get vitamin D from sunlight may benefit from vitamin D supplements instead. This can be a better option for people who live in cold climates or who have difficulty getting outside.
A 2018 review states that, while more research is necessary, there is evidence to suggest that nutritional vitamin D from food or supplements can help with osteoporosis treatment.
Where possible, it is best for a person to get calcium from food. However, people who have difficulty getting enough calcium from their diet may consider taking a calcium supplement.
It is important for people to discuss this with a doctor first because calcium supplements are not suitable for everyone. Although
Some research has also linked calcium supplements with a higher risk of:
Researchers do not fully understand all of the risks and benefits of taking calcium. If eating more food sources is challenging, a person should speak with a doctor.
In addition to protecting bone health internally, it is important for people with osteoporosis to protect themselves externally from fractures. This may involve:
- avoiding activities that twist or bend the spine
- making sure the home is clutter-free and easy to walk around
- wearing nonslip footwear outdoors and indoors
- adding more lighting so it is easy to see potential trip hazards
- tacking rugs and carpet runners to the floor
- considering installing or wearing an emergency response system
There is no cure for osteoporosis. However, there are ways people can lower their risk of getting it. Treatment can also slow or stop the loss of bone density, reducing the chance of fractures.
People with osteoporosis may benefit from diet changes, a medically approved exercise plan, safe sunlight exposure, and in some cases, supplements. If these do not adequately help slow bone loss, a doctor may recommend medications.