Osteopenia: Signs, Causes and Treatment

Osteopenia: Signs, Causes and Treatment

Bone loss begins as early as age 30 as the body starts to reabsorb old bone tissue faster than new bone tissue can be created. A bone mineral density scan (BMD) also known as a DEXA (dual energy x-ray absorptiometry) scan is the most common test to determine how much and how fast bone mass and density is being lost, and it should be done after a person in his/her mid-thirties suffers a fracture. A T score of -1.0 to -2.5 indicates osteopenia, a score of -1.0 and higher is normal BMD, and a score lower than -2.5 means osteoporosis.

Risk Factors Leading to Osteopenia

The myth that it can only happen in small boned, aging Caucasian/Asian women is just that – a myth. There are many causes to osteopenia which include: a family history of the condition; having an eating disorder or excessive dieting; loss of bone tissue from too much exercise; not enough exercise; low testosterone levels in men; a diet low or lacking in sources of calcium and vitamin D; too much caffeine, sugar and sodium; certain medications and treatments like those for arthritis, asthma, and cancer; prolonged use of certain antacids; stress and depression; cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption; and certain health conditions such as diabetes, anemia, and vitamin B12 deficiency. Perimenopause (2 to 8 years prior to menopause) and menopause in women also speed up bone loss because the production of estrogen which helps absorb calcium, completely stops in the ovaries.

Osteopenia Treatment and Developing A Bone Building Programme

Treating and reversing this condition is possible with the help of health care practitioners first and foremost. Plans may be established for dietary and lifestyle changes, the use of vitamins and supplements, and the implementation of an exercise regime.

Eliminating or cutting back on caffeine, sugar and sodium intake, having at least 5 servings of fruit and vegetables and 3 servings of dairy products is usually recommended. For vegetarians or those who do not eat red meat, taking vitamin B12 supplement is also suggested to aid in the production of red blood cells. Other supplements may include 1000 mg of calcium a day and 400 – 800 IU of vitamin D a day if one cannot get the recommended 10 to 15 minutes of natural sunlight unprotected 2-3 times a week.

Lifestyle changes such as the cessation of smoking and drinking of alcohol are also suggested. Smoking deprives the blood of oxygen needed to help produce the cells that make bone tissue. Alcohol elevates the parathyroid hormone which depletes calcium reserves, and it also interferes with the absorption of vitamin D which is needed to absorb calcium. Other lifestyle changes include introducing methods to manage stress and depression as they too produce hormones which rob calcium reserves.

An exercise program with weight bearing physical activity may be implemented to slow bone loss, improve muscle strength and help with balance preventing falls leading to fracture. Walking, running, climbing stairs, yoga and tai chi, or a combination of these are commonly suggested.

One can expect a bone building programme to take 14-24 months before results are seen, but osteopenia can be controlled and reversed before it becomes osteoporosis. Bones have living tissue which can be replaced like skin. The first step once diagnosed is to make a plan of attack with a health care practitioner.