Osteopenia refers to bone mineral density, which is lower than the normal maximum bone mineral density, but not so low that it can be classified as a disease with osteoporosis. Mineral density of bone tissue is a measure of the level of mineral content in bones, indicating how strong and strong they are. If the mineral density of your bone tissue is low, compared to normal maximum bone mineral density, you have osteopenia. Osteopenia means that you are at a great risk that, over time, the mineral density of your bone tissue will become so low compared to the normal value that you will develop osteoporosis.
Causes of osteopenia
With age, people’s bones become thinner naturally, this is a consequence of reaching middle age, because existing bone cells are reabsorbed by the body faster than new bones appear. When this happens, the bones lose their minerals, weight (mass) and structure, which makes them weak and increases the risk of a fracture. All people lose bone mass after reaching the maximum mineral density of bone mass at the age of about 30 years. The thicker your bones are at the age of 30, the longer the process takes to develop osteopenia or osteoporosis.
Some people who have osteopenia may not lose bone mass. Perhaps the low density of bone mass is natural for them. Osteopenia can also occur as a result of various causes, illness or treatment. Women are more likely to develop osteopenia and osteoporosis than men. Since in women the maximum mineral density of bone tissue is lower, and the process of bone loss is faster because of the hormonal changes that occur after menopause. In both men and women, the following factors lead to the development of osteopenia:
- Eating disorders or metabolic problems that prevent the body from getting and absorbing enough vitamins and minerals
- Chemotherapy, or the use of medications such as steroids, for the treatment of a number of diseases, including asthma
- Exposure to radiation
If there is a history of osteoporosis in your family history, you are thin, you are European or Asian, you have physical activity restriction, you smoke, abuse alcohol, regularly use Coca-Cola, this increases the risk of osteopenia, and, over time, osteoporosis.
Symptoms of osteopenia
When osteopenia, symptoms do not appear. You have no pain or change at that time. Although the bone becomes thinner, and the risk of bone fractures increases, with the loss of bone density.
How is osteopenia diagnosed?
Osteopenia is diagnosed by examining the bone mineral density, which is used to diagnose osteoporosis. The most accurate study of bone mineral density is dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEPA), although there are other methods. DXA is a form of X-ray, which can detect a loss of bone mass in an amount of 2% per year. Standard X-ray does not help in the diagnosis of osteopenia, since it is not sensitive enough to detect such a loss of bone mass or small changes in bone density.
A check for osteoporosis is recommended for women aged 65 years and older. Women aged 60 to 64 years should be tested if they are at least one risk factor other than menopause. Risk factors include:
- European origin or, to a lesser extent, Asian.
- Osteoporosis in the family history.
- Prolonged receiving corticosteroids, e.g., prednisone or hydrocortisone, inflammatory diseases, or anticonvulsants, such as carbamazepine (Tegretol), phenytoin (Dilantin) or gabapentin (Neurontin) from pain or convulsions.
- Eating disorders or diseases that affect the absorption of nutrients from food.
- Passive lifestyle or bed rest for a long time.
- Alcohol abuse.
- Lack of calcium and vitamin D.
Many men believe that they are not at risk for osteopenia or osteoporosis, since it is commonly believed that this is a disease of older women. Because men have a higher bone mineral density than women in middle age, osteopenia and osteoporosis in men may develop later in life. Apart from the hormonal changes in women after the onset of menopause, the risk of osteopenia in men is the same as for women. Men are also at risk if they have a low level of testosterone hormone. Consult your doctor if you are at risk for the disease.
How to treat osteopenia?
Osteopenia is treated by taking measures to prevent its progression and, in some people, by taking medications. The lifestyle can reduce the loss of bone mass, which leads to the disease of osteopenia and osteoporosis.
For the development of the skeleton an important role is played by the diet. The most important mineral for bone mass is calcium. Sources of calcium are milk and other dairy products, green vegetables and foods fortified with calcium.
Perhaps your doctor will advise you to take nutritional supplements with calcium, often in conjunction with vitamin D. Vitamin D promotes the absorption of calcium and other minerals by your body. It is found in eggs, salmon, sardines, swordfish and fish oil. It is added to milk or taken as food additives. In addition, you can get it from food, your body also synthesizes vitamin D due to exposure to sunlight.
Physical exercises are also important to maintain the strength of your skeleton, as bone is formed in response to stress. Weight exercises such as walking, hiking, dancing are the best for strengthening bones. Adding exercises to lift small weights or with an elastic band, you can strengthen the bones of the upper body. Consult your physician or physiotherapist regarding the training program.
In addition to nutrition and exercise, quitting smoking and avoiding alcohol and carbonated drinks such as Coca-Cola, will help you reduce the risk of bone loss.
There are medicines that treat the process of thinning the bones, but they are usually taken in the case of the progression of osteopenia and its transition to a more severe condition, that is, osteoporosis. Medications that can be taken from osteopenia include bisphosphates, raloxifene and hormone substitutes.
How to prevent the development of osteopenia?
Whether you have osteopenia, or not, in part, is already predetermined. The presence of family members who have osteopenia or osteoporosis, chronic asthma that requires taking steroids, the amount of calcium and vitamin D you use during your growing up is no longer subject to your control. But if you are young or you have children growing up, there are things that will help you develop the strength of the skeleton and stop the development of osteopenia and prevent the disease with osteoporosis.
Your bone mass reaches its maximum density at the age of 30, so that everything that increases bone density will help children and people under the age of 30. To increase bone density, make sure you take sufficient calcium and vitamin D from your diet or by staying in the sun for a short period of time on a regular basis, do not smoke, avoid Coca-Cola and alcohol abuse. If you have children, teach them to eat healthy, exercise, and avoid smoking and drinking alcohol. Also, allow them to play for a short period of time in the sun, which contributes to the development of their body more vitamin D. Most doctors recommend taking vitamin D supplements for children and adolescents, starting from 2 months. Consult your doctor regarding the amount and sources of vitamin D that are appropriate for your child.
If you are over 30, it’s still not too late to change your way of life. A balanced diet and regular spot treatments will help you slow down the process of bone loss, delay the development of osteopenia and delay or prevent the development of osteoporosis.