What is Osteopenia?

Osteopenia, also called low bone density, refers to early signs of bone loss that can potentially lead to osteoporosis. Just because you have osteopenia, it does not mean you will get osteoporosis.

But, once you have osteoporosis your fracture risk is increased. Unfortunately, there are no symptoms, so you might not know your bones are getting weaker until it happens!

A broken bone can really affect your life. It can cause disability, pain, or loss of independence. It can make it harder to do daily activities without help, such as walking. This can make it hard to participate in social activities. It can also cause severe back pain and deformity.

What is the Difference Between Osteopenia and Osteoporosis?

Painless bone mineral density tests, called DEXA tests, can help determine your bone mass and determine if you have normal bone mineral density, or osteopenia or osteoporosis. These tests provide a T-score which compares your bone mineral density (BMD) to an optimal BMD of a 30 year old healthy adult.

If you look at the illustration below, you will see that a a T-score of -1.0 and above indicates normal bone density. A T-score of -1.0 to -2.5 indicates that you have low bone mass (osteopenia). A score below -2.5 indicates osteoporosis.

If you are age 65 and older, you should talk to your family doctor about getting a bone density test. If you are between ages 60 and 64, weigh less than 154 pounds, and don’t take estrogen, get a bone density test. Don’t wait until age 65. You have a higher chance for breaks.

Osteopenia and DEXA scan results image

Do Men Get Osteopenia?

Before the 1990s, we used to think only women got osteopenia and osteoporosis. Now we know that men also have to worry about weak bones. In fact, one in four men over age 50 will suffer a fracture caused by osteoporosis.

For more on osteoporosis in men, click here.

What Bones are Affected?

Osteoporosis can happen to any of your bones, but is most common in the hip, wrist, and in your spine, also called your vertebrae. Vertebrae are important because these bones support your body to stand and sit upright. See the picture below.

Osteopenia image Osteoporosis in the vertebrae can cause serious problems for women. A fracture in this area occurs from day-to-day activities like climbing stairs, lifting objects, or bending forward

  • Sloping shoulders
  • Curve in the back
  • Height loss
  • Back pain
  • Hunched posture
  • Protruding abdomen

Osteopenia Treatment and Prevention Options

Osteopenia can be treated to prevent further bone loss leading to osteoporosis. No matter what stage or age in your life, it is never too late to start!

1. Start Young

Building strong bones during your youth is the best defense against getting osteopenia or low bone density later in life. Studies have shown that if you can build strong bones during childhood and adolescence, bone loss in later years will have less effect. In fact, maximum bone growth takes place between the ages 11-17 for young boys and girls. And by the time they reach the age of 20, 90% of their bone mass will already have been built! For more on preventative osteoporosis care in teenagers, go here.

osteopenia treatment - exercise

2. Get Moving

It’s important at any age to keep moving. No matter what your age, build your bone health using the following advice.

Being active helps your bones in more than one way. It:

  • Slows your bone loss
  • Improves your muscle strength
  • Helps your balance preventing bone-damaging falls

The top exercise to focus on is weight-bearing exercise. This literally means to bear your own weight and makes your body work against gravity, which is great for your bones!

Some examples include but are not limited to:

  • Walking
  • Dancing
  • Running
  • Climbing stairs
  • Yoga
  • Tai chi
  • Hiking
  • Playing tennis
  • Or lifting weights

These all help! Try and get out and moving at least 3x a week for 30 minutes. For more exercises and workouts, check out these osteoporosis exercises.

3. Get Enough Calcium Each Day

The best way to prevent osteopenia is to get enough calcium along with the other co-factors such as magnesium, trace minerals, vitamins D3 and K2 in your diet. Osteopenia and Osteoporosis are not problems of insufficient daily calcium intake but rather of incorrect calcium utilization because we do not get sufficient amounts of these co-factors in our diet.

You need enough calcium each day for strong bones throughout life. We recommend you can get it through foods, and then make up the shortfall using a calcium supplement with the above co-factors included in the formula.

Here is how much elemental calcium you need each day:

Ages Milligrams per Day
9-18 1300
19-50 1000
51 and older 1200

osteopenia treatment - vitamin D

4. Get Enough Vitamin D

It is also important to get enough vitamin D, which helps your body take in calcium. You can get vitamin D through sunlight, which is the best source. Or through smaller amounts in foods like milk or mushrooms. You need 10-15 minutes of sunlight on your bare hands, arms, and face, two to three times a week to get enough vitamin D. The amount of time depends on how sensitive your skin is to light, use of sunscreen, skin color, and pollution.

Recent studies show you much more vitamin D than was previously recommended. So if you’re not keen on sun exposure, the easiest way is to ensure you are getting enough is to supplement. And make sure it’s with vitamin D3 and not vitamin D2 – it matters!

Vitamin D Info

5. Don’t Forget About Vitamin K2

A dozen recent studies have shown vitamin K2 to be very beneficial to you bone health. In fact, Vitamin K2 is the nutrient that we must have to activate the proteins responsible for delivering calcium to our bones (osteocalcin) and preventing calcium from depositing in soft tissues, like our arteries, heart or kidneys.

Unlike some vitamins which can be synthesized in your body, you cannot make Vitamin K so it must be supplied by your food. Vitamin K cannot be stored in the body either, so it must come directly from your diet on a regular basis. Learn more about vitamin K2.

osteopenia treatment - magnesium

6. Get Enough Magnesium Daily

Magnesium works closely with calcium to keep the calcium in your bones and out of your soft tissues. It has many other functions in your body including disease prevention. Eat a variety of whole grains ,nuts,  legumes, and vegetables (especially dark-green, leafy vegetables with chlorophyll) to increase dietary magnesium intake.

AlgaeCal PlusA smart approach is to take magnesium along with your calcium supplement as the two minerals work together in several ways to maintain balance.

It is always best to get any mineral from a food, so we recommend AlgaeCal®, a marine algae naturally containing a balance of magnesium, calcium, trace minerals and phyto-nutrients in a whole food complex.

Learn more about AlgaeCal.