Let’s start with what a diagnosis of osteopenia doesn’t mean:
- An osteopenia diagnosis does not mean you’ll inevitably suffer from osteoporosis.
- It doesn’t mean that you’re losing excessive bone or that you’re in danger of fracturing.
- It doesn’t mean you have a disease that can be solved by taking bone drugs, even though that’s what pharmaceutical companies would like you to think.
Osteopenia simply means that your bone density measurement is less, but not excessively less, than a woman who is 30 years old. And what that really signifies for you will depend on your individual body type, lifestyle, history and many factors you can take control of right now.
The push to diagnosis osteopenia and osteoporosis
One way medical practitioners evaluate bone health is to look at bone mineral density (BMD) with a test known as a DEXA (duel-energy x-ray absorptiometry) scan. If the results of your DEXA scan, or other BMD test, show bone mineral density that is between 1.0 and 2.47 standard deviations below the average young woman in her mid-20’s to age 30, you are said to have osteopenia.
When the DEXA scan was developed in the early 1980s, many healthcare professionals hoped it would be a straightforward prediction of who was at the most risk for the fractures that are devastating to many women’s lives. However, the use of bone mineral density as the main predictor of bone health has several limitations.
First, keep in mind that all women lose bone as they age (and that the standard used for comparison is that of a young woman), so it makes sense that most of us will show at least some decreased bone density. Unless you have several DEXA scans over a period of time, you really can’t tell how much bone you are losing.
Another major drawback is that it that measuring bone density with DEXA doesn’t tell you much about your bone strength or your risk of fracture. Studies show that nearly half of those who fracture do not have excessively low bone mass or even moderately low bone mass.
The real measure of bone health
One of the most frightening aspects about being told you have low bone density is the fear of fracture. For a long time, it was thought — or assumed — that thinner bone fractures more easily. But now there’s been more research and we know that bone mineral density by itself doesn’t lead to fracture. In fact, many women with thin or osteoporotic bones don’t experience a bone fracture in their lifetime. On the other hand, more than half of fractures actually occur in those people who don’t have “osteoporotic” bone density.
Instead, fractures tend to occur when the body lacks the ability to self-repair. Our bones are constantly going through a normal cycle of breakdown and building based on our daily activities. However, self-repair can be affected by many factors, such as lack of key nutrients and exercise, an acid forming diet that robs bone of its mineral reserves, systematic inflammation and the burden of chemicals and pollutants in our body.
As a result of these factors, bones lack their natural capability to repair themselves from the everyday stress and strains that create microfractures. Bones become weak and of poor quality — with a much greater likelihood of fracture.
Working with your bones to promote natural bone health
If you’ve been given a diagnosis of osteopenia, the first step we recommend is to look closely at other possible risk factors by talking with your healthcare practitioner, or getting started on your own with our comprehensive Fracture Risk & Bone Health Profile. You may even want to discuss the Profile results with your practitioner.
You can also start to take control of certain factors that influence your fracture risk, by incorporating the following into your lifestyle:
Eat alkaline-friendly foods. Try to eat more fresh vegetables, nuts, seeds, fruits, and some lean proteins, all which will help keep buffering minerals in the bones.
Provide your body with specific bone-building nutrients. Even with the best diet this may be difficult, so we recommend a high-quality multivitamin and mineral supplement.
Build stronger bone with exercise. Any form of exercise (especially if it’s weight-bearing) can help halt bone loss through building muscle, and extensive strength training can build bone significantly as it builds muscle.
Minimize your stress. Cortisol, our major stress hormone, can be harmful to bone, especially when we’re constantly stressed. Make time to take care of yourself.
Our bones are complex, living tissue which responds to the changes we make. If you’re concerned about osteopenia, consider this a window of opportunity to make some nutritional and lifestyle changes. The bone-strengthening benefits of this natural approach can help make the difference in staying healthy and avoiding fracture.