Lots of health conditions come about with aging like the weakening of bones. Osteoporosis, for example, is among such problems in the bones, and we often hear about it in milk advertisements for older adults. But there’s another condition, one we don’t see much in commercials—osteopenia.
Osteopenia is an issue with low bone density, but not low enough to be considered osteoporosis. This condition is easy to overlook at times. Although it is not technically classified as a disease, a good osteopenia treatment plan is highly recommended. Going through osteopenia treatment at an earlier stage may curb the risk of osteoporosis. Learn more about causes, symptoms, and treatment options of osteopenia in this article.
What Is Osteopenia?
Osteopenia, in simple terms, is a bone condition that diminishes bone mass and eventually makes the bones weaker. Basically, it is an early sign or a precursor to osteoporosis. Like osteoporosis, osteopenia is linked with aging.
It is scientifically proven that bones are usually at their densest at age 30 or 35. Most women in their 60s experience osteopenia, but men are also at risk to have the same early signs of low bone density. The exact age, however, depends on the strength of the bones, to begin with. Thus, all men and women should be evaluated for this bone condition to know exactly when they are considered to be at risk of developing the condition. Having low bone density makes the bones extra fragile, but not weak enough for them to break easily. It is believed that women are more likely to get it because they live longer than men, which makes them more prone to bone-related conditions. Notably, they have lower bone mass overall.
As mentioned, aging is the most common risk factor for osteopenia. Nonetheless, there are some other risk factors that increase the tendency for osteopenia, both lifestyle-related and non-lifestyle related. Following the peak of the bone mass in the early 30s, the body breaks down old bones faster than it works up new bones, which prompts it to lose some bone density.
Non-lifestyle factors include:
- Family history of low BMD: People who have osteopenia have a lower BMD than normal. Bone mineral density or BMD is the measurement of bone minerals.
- Post-menopausal conditions: The lowering of the number of estrogens, which is a natural consequence of menopause in women, is directly linked to a decrease in bone density.
- Family history of osteoporosis: Genetics play an important role why some people are more susceptible to bone fractures.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: Research has found a heightened risk of bone loss and fractures in people with rheumatoid arthritis.
- Asian descent: According to some studies, generally, Asians have thinner and have lower bone density than other races.
- Low testosterone in men: This is one of the most established risk factors for osteopenia in men. Increasing the serum testosterone concentrations of men has the possibility to increase their bone densities.
Lifestyle factors include:
- Lack of exercise: Inactivity is a great factor for lower bone density and physical training can increase bone mass or lessen bone loss that is associated with age.
- Excess alcohol consumption: Calcium is an all-important nutrient to keep the bones healthy, and alcohol is its enemy.
- Excessive smoking: Nicotine and toxins in cigarettes affect bone health.
- Excessive stress: When stressed, the body increases the production of Cortisol (an adrenal-cortex hormone). This may lead to a loss of bone density if the amount is extreme.
- Crash dieting and eating disorders: What you eat or what you do not eat is a major factor in considering osteopenia. That’s why, people with anorexia, who severely restrict calories for a long time, are at increased risk for this condition.
With these several causes and risk factors, a bone density test should be done first in order to determine one’s bone condition. A bone density test (or bone mass measurement test) is the only test that can determine bone mass and bone strength. Notably, this test can help you determine if you have weak bones and are prone to have osteoporosis in the future, predict chances of breaking a bone, know if bone density is bettering, relapsing, or staying in the same condition, and ascertain how well the medicines are working. The bone density test is recommended to be taken every one to two years.
It is very important to know that proper exercise and nutrition may help address osteopenia. The condition is quite rarely treated with medications, as there may be a tendency to overmedicate. Again, osteopenia is not a disease with a cure. Rather, it is a bone condition, which you can alleviate with certain processes.
Exercising is one of the best ways to combat this bone condition. It may prevent osteopenia sufferers from getting fractures and bone pain and loss. Plus, exercising may help increase bone density. Note that consulting a doctor before starting any exercise regimen for osteopenia is highly significant, as certain forms of exercise can do more harm than good. Moreover, exercises that are good for people with osteoporosis may not be good for those with osteopenia. You must remember these are two different conditions, with distinct management options.
Weight-bearing exercise like simple walking, climbing the stairs, dancing, jogging, are often recommended for people with osteopenia. These activities are shown to be specifically successful in enhancing bone formation. Crunches and sit-ups, on the other hand, are not recommended as they increase the chances of fractures in the lower spine. Note that spine-related exercises that flex, bend, or twist it, are not encouraged as well.