Osteopenia is the first stage before osteoporosis. It is a medical condition in which bones have decreased calcification and the bone mineral density (BMD) is measured as below average. When a person reaches the osteoporosis state, there can be painful skeletal fractures, loss of height, and a higher risk of breaking bones. It's a common condition in women, especially those who have reached menopause. Bone loss can be slowed and even reversed if caught early and healthy measures are taken.
Request a bone density test from your physician. Since BMD may start to decline by the mid-30s, everyone 30 and older should be tested to prevent osteopenia. The DEXA (dual energy X- ray absorptionmetry) is a painless test that scans the hip and spine to see if you have bone loss due to depletion of minerals.
Bone loss is measured in T-scores. This score is compared to the normal bone densities of a person of the patient's age, and the difference is expressed as a standard deviation. According to the World Health Organization, normal is 0 to -1.0 standard deviation (SD). If a T-score is between -1.0 to -2.5 SD, it is considered osteopenia. Less than -2.5 rates as osteoporosis.
Get some sunshine. Direct sun on the body (without sunscreen) for 10 to 15 minutes several times a week will supply the body with a normal amount of vitamin D. If going out in the sun is not an option, you can take supplements. According to the Mayo Clinic, 400-600 IU (international units; a measurement in vitamins) is necessary for people ages 51 to 70. Ages 71 and older need 600 to 800 IU daily. No one should exceed more than 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily. There is vitamin D in foods such as egg yolks, fatty fish, fish oils (especially cod liver oil), liver and some milk.
Increase your calcium. There are many types of calcium supplements, the most common being calcium carbonate. Calcium citrate absorbs best for people with low stomach acid. The body can only absorb 500 mg of calcium at a time, so take this amount two to three times a day with food. Magnesium is taken with calcium for better absorption and to lessen constipation that is caused by calcium carbonate. Take at least 400 mg of magnesium daily. Food sources of calcium include dairy products, almonds, broccoli, cooked kale, canned salmon (with the bones), oats and soy products such as tofu.
Make time to exercise. Weight-bearing exercise helps build bone, and you should do it for at least 30 minutes, two to three times a week. Brisk walking along with strength training (the use of weights) is the most common form. Anything that gets you on your feet, like dancing, gardening, elliptical or treadmill machines, helps build bone mass as well. Swimming is healthy for the body, but does not build bone density.
Avoid alcohol, tobacco and caffeine. Caffeine alone increases calcium loss in the urine.
Your physician may order medications if your T-score is below normal for osteopenia and you are at risk for osteoporosis.
There are other nutrients that help the body build bone, such as vitamins B, C and K, zinc, manganese, boron, silicon and essential fatty acids.
Avoid refined sugar and salt because they increase the loss of calcium in the urine. Stay away from sodas because the phosphorus and excess sugar leads to loss of calcium and magnesium in the urine.