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Health and Nutrition Article: What is Osteopenia?
By Karen Goeller, CSCS
Copyright © Goeller
This article is not for reprint without written permission from the author.

 

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Osteopenia is considered the first step along the road to osteoporosis, a serious condition in which bone density is extremely low. Osteopenia, if not treated, may result in osteoporosis. Osteopenia encompasses a wide range of fracture risks including age, bone mineral density, and clinical risk factors. Osteopenia, the milder bone-loss disease, is less well known but affects an estimated eighteen million young and middle-aged women, including those in their late teens and early twenties.

 

Some people who have Osteopenia may not have bone loss, but they may naturally have a lower bone density. It is diagnosed with a bone mineral density (BMD) test, usually done to see whether a person has osteoporosis. A standard X-ray is not useful in diagnosing Osteopenia because it is not sensitive enough to detect small amounts of bone loss or minor changes in bone density. Bones do not reach their greatest density until about 30 years of age. For children and people younger than 30, anything that helps increase bone density will have positive long-term benefits. A balanced diet and regular exercise will help slow the loss of bone density, delay Osteopenia, and delay or prevent osteoporosis.

 

Women are far more likely to develop Osteopenia and osteoporosis than men because they lose bone mass sooner and faster. Women who diet excessively to maintain a low body weight often eliminate dairy products from their diet. This puts them at an increased risk of bone loss because they may lose their primary source of calcium, a vital source of bone strength. Women should eat a healthy diet, maintain a sturdy weight, exercise, and avoid smoking. Low bone mass appears in about 50 percent of women in their 50's and more than 85 percent of women in their 70's. Approximately 90 percent of women over the age of seventy-five have experienced a bone fracture. Osteopenia affects an estimated eighteen million young and middle age women. That includes women in their late teens and early twenties. It is imperative that we teach our young girls that they must eat healthy and include foods that are high in calcium in their diet.

 

To maintain good bone health you should eat a balanced diet that includes adequate calcium and vitamin D, using supplements when necessary. You should also engage in regular physical activity, refrain from smoking, and avoid heavy alcohol use. While most doctors would recommend medication for women with osteoporosis to prevent fracture, doctors argue about whether medications are necessary for women with Osteopenia, the less severe form of bone density loss.

 

Calcium is the most critical mineral for bone mass. It is a vital source of bone strength. Women who eliminate dairy products from their diet, lose their primary source of calcium. That could contribute to low bone density. In addition, diuretics, antacids, chemotherapy, hormone therapy for cancer, lithium, and some medications for seizures can also deplete the bones of calcium. Skeletal mass is the highest in your 30s and depends on diet (calcium and vitamin D), physical activity, and genetics. It is important to consume enough calcium and vitamin D throughout your life, in order to achieve maximal peak bone density in early and middle years and to maintain bone in later years. For most adults, a daily intake between 1200 and 1500 mg of calcium and 400-800 IU of Vitamin D is both safe and effective. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium and other minerals. It is added to milk and can be taken in calcium and vitamin supplements. Magnesium is also imperative for bone health. It works to keep the calcium in your bones and out of your soft tissues.

 

Osteopenia and Osteoporosis are not always problems of insufficient calcium intake, but rather of incorrect calcium utilization. Osteopenia may be the result of a wide variety of other conditions, disease processes, or treatments. In addition, diuretics, antacids, chemotherapy, hormone therapy for cancer, lithium, and some medications for seizures can deplete the bones of calcium. There are usually no symptoms with Osteopenia and the disease can go undiagnosed until a fracture occurs.

 

Treatment options for Osteopenia are often the same methods used for treating osteoporosis. Treatment depends on age and risk factors, but it often includes calcium and vitamin D supplementation along with a program of weight-bearing exercises. For some people medication is prescribed. Treatment is strongly recommended to stop further bone loss and minimize the risk of fractures.

 

Osteopenia usually occurs gradually over the course of many years. It is the term used for bones that have become less dense than normal. Osteopenia occurs either when the body fails to form enough new bone, when too much old bone is reabsorbed by the body, or when both occur. Remember to do everything you can to prevent Osteopenia and osteoporosis because both can lead to fractures.

 

By Karen M. Goeller
Karen Goeller has been training athletes since 1978. She has an education that includes training in emergency medicine, physical therapy, and nutrition. She has held certifications that include NSCA-CSCS, Fitness Trainer, EMT-D, Nutritional Analysis, and many Gymnastics Certifications among others. Besides being author of the Gymnastics Drills and Conditioning books, Karen is the author of the Swing Set Fitness books. She has also published journals, training programs, and articles. Her books are used by fitness experts, coaches, teachers, and athletes worldwide. Karen has worked for world famous gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi, owned a gymnastics club for ten years, and has been featured in several newspapers and on television many times. She offers sports performance training and private gymnastics training in NJ. For more on Karen visit www.KarenGoeller.com.  


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