05/04/2012 11:43 am ET

Gene Variants Linked With Osteoporosis And Increased Fracture Risk

Genes may be at least partially to blame when it comes to osteoporosis and fracture risk in women, according to new research.

In a new study published in the journal Nature Genetics, researchers from the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg highlighted the discovery of gene variants that they say can cause osteoporosis.

They also found that women who have proportionally more of these genes variants are at a 50 percent increased risk of breaking a bone.

This is important because broken bones and falls can be deadly, with the National Osteoporosis Foundation reporting that 15,802 people ages 65 and older died in 2005 because of a fall-related injury. The NOF also estimated that 2 million fractures occurred in 2005 because of osteoporosis.

"This is the first time anyone has identified the genetic variants that are so strongly associated with an increased risk of fracture," said Claes Ohlsson, a professor at the Sahlgrenska Academy, in a statement.

For the study, researchers examined the genes of 80,000 people and 30,000 cases of broken bones. They found 55 gene regions that seem to have a role in bone density, and 14 specific gene variants that are linked with an increased fracture risk.

"We can prove that women who have a large number of genetic variants associated with low bone density have up to a 56 percent higher risk of osteoporosis as compared with women who have a normal [set-up] of the same genetic variants," study researcher Claes Ohlsson said in a statement.

This isn't the first research to pin osteoporosis risk on genes. Past studies in the New England Journal of Medicine and the Lancet also identified specific gene variants that are linked with osteoporosis, fractures and bone density, WebMD reported.

In the U.S., osteoporosis of the hip, in particular, affects 4.5 million women and 800,000 men, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Risk factors for osteoporosis include being a woman, being older, being of white or Asian race, having a family history of the condition and having a smaller body frame, according to the Mayo Clinic. Problems with hormone levels (which can occur because of thyroid problems, treatments or aging) could also contribute to osteoporosis risk, as does not eating enough calcium, having an eating disorder or going through weight-loss surgery, the Mayo Clinic reported.