Bone density is a measure of your bone strength. Generally, the higher the bone density, the stronger the bones. Osteoporosis happens when the bone density becomes dangerously, making us more susceptible to suffering broken bones. The step just before osteoporosis is known as osteopenia. Osteopenia is when the bones are weak and have a low bone density. Yet, it is not quite as bad as osteoporosis. Osteopenia is the halfway point between normal bones and osteoporosis.
Although osteopenia is serious and can eventually turn into osteoporosis, there is good news. Making a few lifestyle changes can halt the progression to osteoporosis.
What causes osteopenia?
As we age our bones become thinner and more brittle. Starting around age 30, we start to lose bone mass. The existing bones cells are reabsorbed by the body faster than new bone synthesis1. When this happens, the bones lose minerals, become less dense, and become weaker.
What increases your chances of developing osteopenia?
Women are much more likely than men to develop osteopenia and osteoporosis1. This is because women have a lower peak bone density and during menopause, the loss of bone mass speeds up. In both men and women, however, the following things can increase your risk of developing osteopenia:
- A diet that lacks calcium and vitamin D
- Having a family history of osteoporosis
- Ethnicity (Caucasian and Asian women have an increased risk of developing osteopenia)
- Limited physical activity
- Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
What are the symptoms of osteopenia, and how is it diagnosed?
Osteopenia has no symptoms. Most people will have no pain or discomfort even as their bones become thinner and more brittle. So how is osteopenia diagnosed?
Osteopenia is diagnosed with a bone scan, also called a bone density test or DXA scan. These are usually done by your doctor to see whether you have osteoporosis. They may be done following a fall or bone fracture. However, The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends this bone scan for women who are post-menopausal or those over the age of 65. Because osteopenia has no symptoms, the best way to stop it is to prevent it from happening in the first place.
How do you prevent osteopenia?
It’s never too late (or too early) to take steps to prevent osteopenia. Lifestyle changes are the best way to help slow down bone loss. Here are just a few important tips that can make a big difference:
Diet: What you eat is important to bone development. Calcium and vitamin D are the most critical minerals for bone mass and keeping your bones healthy. The best food sources of calcium are
- dairy products,
- green vegetables, and
- calcium-enriched products.
Don’t forget that supplements are a great way to get high amounts of calcium and vitamin D into your daily diet.
Exercise: Daily physical activity like
- swimming, or weight bearing exercises
are vital to bone health. Research has shown that you can improve bone mineral density with just 20 minutes of modest impact activity, resistance training, or vibration therapy three times a week2.
Smoking and alcohol consumption: Quitting smoking and avoiding excessive use of alcohol will also reduce your risk of bone loss. Smoking causes bones to become brittle, porous, and gives them a lower density.
Medications: In some cases, your doctor may recommend medications used to help stop or slow bone breakdown. If you have any of the risk factors of osteopenia, be sure to speak to your physician.
1- WebMD. Osteopenia. http://www.webmd.com/osteoporosis/tc/osteopenia-overview#1