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Nicholas Flood, Ireland

Nicholas Flood, Ireland  

Some osteoporosis in men is caused by trauma, linked to excessive exercise and poor nutrition which results in low levels of male sex hormones.

In 2000, Nicholas Flood, one of the world's leading rifle "silhouette" shooters, had just returned from a competition in Brisbane, Australia. He was eager to renew his training, since "after all the time spent on the road I got soft and out of condition." But he overdid it and felt pain in his lower back. He visited Moira O'Brien, the sport's medical officer and president of the Irish Osteoporosis Society. She ordered a bone density test and the results showed that Nicholas had osteoporosis.

Why would a fit athlete, just 34 years old, develop osteoporosis?

There are several explanations. The sport of silhouette shooting is particular stressful since the athlete shoots standing up, holding a rifle that can weigh up to four kilos. The shooter is forced into a position requiring two bends in the spine, putting the lower lumbar spine into extreme pressure.

Dr. O'Brien saw that by training two or three times a day, Nicholas did not give his body time to recharge. Also some of his training exercises put his skeleton under undue stress. She changed some postures, and with the help of the National Coaching and Training Centre introduced an aerobics and stretching program.

Also, Nicholas had paid little attention to his diet. Caffeine was leaching calcium from his system, but "the main problem was simple lack of food – I thought eating was a complete waste of time," he says. "I was very bad and my system let me know it."

Nicholas's injury healed and in 2004 he became the European Champion in all four rifle events, setting a new record.

He says he knows a lot of people with back problems. "I encourage people to get checked out, because your body tells you things and you have to listen to it."

Dr. O'Brien adds "We are trying to identify the men at risk but we are also trying to make people realise osteoporosis is not just a disease of older people, that it affects men, women and children. That's the crucial thing. All men need to be aware that they are at risk of osteoporosis and should not wait until they have broken their bones to discover they have it."

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