What is Osteopenia?

Osteopenia is a condition where your body doesn’t create new bone cells as fast as it reabsorbs old bone cells. It is similar to osteoporosis, but not as severe; however, it can turn into osteoporosis if steps are not taken to fix the reason for the bone loss.

Causes may include a lack of calcium in the diet, smoking, hormone imbalances or age-related changes and some medications. People who have lacked nutrients in the diet or experienced an eating disorder may be at higher risk.

Women are more likely than men to develop osteopenia or osteoporosis. Caucasians and Asians are more likely than other races to develop osteopenia.

What are the Symptoms of Osteopenia?

Most people with osteopenia have no symptoms. You may not know that you have it until you begin to experience bone fragility or minor breaks in the bone. This usually doesn’t occur until you have developed osteoporosis.

Your doctor can perform a bone density scan to evaluate you for osteopenia. Women who are over 65 should have this screening done to see if you have bone loss or are at risk.

Osteopenia Causes

Osteopenia can be caused by several different things.

The most common cause of osteopenia is simply aging. After a person hits peak bone density, which usually happens somewhere around age thirty, the body starts absorbing existing bone cells faster than new ones are being produced. This naturally leads to a thinning of the bones. This is more pronounced in women as women generally have a lower peak bone density and hormonal changes brought on by menopause speed up the process.

Osteopenia can also be caused by other factors as well. Some people are genetically predisposed to it. They may have simply been born with thinner bones or they naturally reabsorb bone cells quicker. There are certain diseases and even medical treatments, including chemo and radiation therapy, which can lead to reduced bone density as well.

How is Osteopenia Treated?

The main treatment for osteopenia is to take steps to prevent increased loss of bone density. This may mean better attention to diet and the inclusion of more calcium-rich foods. Your doctor may recommend additional vitamin D and a mineral supplement or may prescribe medication that can help slow bone loss.

Weight-bearing exercise can also help increase bone density, or at least, slow the rate of bone loss. Walking, hiking, bouncing on a mini trampoline and light weight lifting can all help to increase bone density. A physical therapist can instruct you in exercises that can most effectively help you at your current level of fitness.

Quitting smoking and avoiding beverages with alcohol and caffeine may help you to feel more healthy and improve your bone health.

Osteopenia Prevention

There are fortunately many ways to reduce the risk of developing osteopenia.

There are several factors that can increase your risk of developing osteopenia. Smokers, those who drink heavily, and people who consume excessive amounts of soda all have a higher risk of developing osteopenia. Reducing or eliminating your consumption of these products can go a long way in insuring you don’t run into problems.

Diet, as with most diseases, plays a major role in the prevention of osteopenia as well. A balanced diet with plenty of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains will go a long way in keeping your bones strong. Both calcium and vitamin D are especially important in maintaining strong bones. It’s also very easy to be deficient in them. Some good sources of calcium include dairy products, leafy green vegetables, and sardines. There are, of course, calcium supplements available if you don’t believe you’re getting enough. While there are some food sources of vitamin D such as oily fish, there isn’t a significant amount present. The only way to insure you’re getting enough vitamin D is to get it through sun exposure or supplementation.

Exercise is often prescribed to treat and prevent osteopenia. Exercises that are muscles strengthening and weight-bearing show the most benefit. These exercises include weight training, dancing, and walking or running.

Medication is sometimes prescribed as a preventive measure but there is doubt as to whether it’s effective or not.