Osteoporosis is increasingly recognised in men. Low bone mass, risk factors for falling and factors causing fractures in women are likely to cause fractures in men. Bone mass is largely genetically determined, but environmental factors also contribute. Greater muscle strength and physical activity are associated with higher bone mass, while radial bone loss is greater in cigarette smokers or those with a moderate alcohol intake. Sex hormones have important effects on bone physiology. In men, there is no abrupt cessation of testicular function or 'andropause' comparable with the menopause in women; however, both total and free testosterone levels decline with age. A common secondary cause of osteoporosis in men is hypogonadism. There is increasing evidence that estrogens are important in skeletal maintenance in men as well as women. Peripheral aromatisation of androgens to estrogens occurs and osteoblast-like cells can aromatise androgens into estrogens. Human models exist for the effects of estrogens on the male skeleton. In men aged > 65 years, there is a positive association between bone mineral density (BMD) and greater serum estradiol levels at all skeletal sites and a negative association between BMD and testosterone at some sites. It is crucial to exclude pathological causes of osteoporosis, because 30 to 60% of men with vertebral fractures have another illness contributing to bone disease. Glucocorticoid excess (predominantly exogenous) is common. Gastrointestinal disease predisposes patients to bone disease as a result of intestinal malabsorption of calcium and colecalciferol (vitamin D). Hypercalciuria and nephrolithiasis, anticonvulsant drug use, thyrotoxicosis, immobilisation, liver and renal disease, multiple myeloma and systemic mastocytosis have all been associated with osteoporosis in men. It is possible that low-dose estrogen therapy or specific estrogen receptor-modulating drugs might increase BMD in men as well as in women. In the future, parathyroid hormone peptides may be an effective treatment fur osteoporosis, particularly in patients in whom other treatments, such as bisphosphonates, have failed. Men with idiopathic osteoporosis have low circulating insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1; somatomedin-1) concentrations, and IGF-1 administration to these men increases bone formation markers more than resorption markers. Studies of changes in BMD with IGF-1 treatment in osteoporotic men and women are underway. Osteoporosis in men will become an increasing worldwide public health problem over the next 20 years, so it is vital that safe and effective therapies for this disabling condition become available. Effective public health measures also need to be established and targeted to men at risk of developing the disease.