Osteoporosis and Your Bones

Osteopenia has no symptoms. You notice no pain or change as the bone becomes thinner, although the risk of breaking a bone increases as the bone becomes less dense. Osteopenia is diagnosed with a bone mineral density (BMD) test, usually done to see whether you have osteoporosis. The most accurate test of BMD is dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA), although there are other methods. DEXA is a form of X-ray that can detect as little as 2% of bone loss per year. A standard X-ray is not useful in diagnosing osteopenis, because it is not sensitive enough to detect small amounts of bone loss or minor changes in bone density.

Osteopenia is treated  by taking steps to keep it from progressing to osteoporosis and for a few people, by taking medicine. Lifestyle changes can help reduce the bone loss that leads to osteopenia and osteoporosis. What you eat is very important to bone development. Calcium is the most critical mineral for bone mass. Your best ources of calcium are milk and other dairy products, green vegetables, and calcium-enriched products. Your doctor may also want you to take a calcium supplement, often combined with vitamin D. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium and other minrals. It is found in eggs, salmon, sardines, swordfish, and some fish oils. It is added to milk and can be taken in calcium and vitamin supplements. In addition to what you take in from food, your body makes vitamin D in response to sunlight. Exercise is important for having strong bones because bone forms in response to stress. Weight-bearing exercises such as walking, hiking, and dancing are all good choices. Adding exercise with light weights or elastic bands can help the bones in the upper body. Talk to your doctor or a physical therapist about starting an exercise program.


In addition to diet and exercise, quitting smoking and avoiding excessive use of alcohol and cola will also reduce your risk of bone loss. There are medicines for treating bone thinnning. But these are more commonly used if you have progressed past osteopenia to the more serious conditions of osteoporosis. Medicines that my be used for osteopenia include isphosphonates, raloxifene, and hormone replacement.  Whether you will tend to develop osteopenia is , in part, already determined. Things like whether you have any family members who have had osteoporosis or osteopenia, whether you have chronic asthma that requires you to take steroids, and how much calcium and vitamin D you got while you were growing up are beyond your control now. But if you are a young adult or if you are raising children there are things you can do to help  develop strong bones and help slow down osteopenia and prevent osteoprorsis. Your bones don't reach their greatest density until you are about thirty years old, so for children and people younger than thirty, anything that helps inrease bone density will have long-term benefits. To maximize bone density, make sure you get plenty of calcium and vitamin D through your diet and by spending a little time in the sun, get weight-bearing exercise on a regular basis, don't smoke, and avoid cola and excessive alcohol. If you have children, teach them to eat healthy, get regular exercise, and avoid smoking and alcohol. Also, get them to play a little in the sunshine to help their bodies make more vitamin D. Talk with your doctor about how much and what sources of vitamin D are right for your child. Nutrition and osteoporosis are closely linked. If you're not getting the right nutrients, whether in your diet or through supplements, you are putting yourself at greater risk for osteoporosis. But just what nutrients should you be getting to help fight osteoporosis, and how should you be getting them?  The most important nutrients for fighting osteoporosis are and vitamin D. Calcium is a key building block for your bones, while vitamin D is the "key" that unlocks the door to your bones and allows them to absorb calcium.

If you are older than thirty, it's still not too late to make these lifestyle changes. A balanced diet and regular execise will help slow the loss of bone density, delay osteopenia, and delay or prevent osteoporosis.