Osteopenia is a condition that begins as you lose bone mass and your bones get weaker. This happens when the inside of your bones become brittle from a loss of calcium. It’s very common as you age. Total bone mass peaks around age 35. People who have osteopenia are at a higher risk of having osteoporosis.
Symptoms of osteopenia
Most people who have osteopenia don’t have symptoms. Loss of bone mass isn’t painful. Broken bones or fractures can occur, but these problems tend to happen once you have osteoporosis.
Bone density is measured with dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA). DEXA is a quick and painless imaging test that uses X-rays to determine whether you have healthy bones, osteopenia or osteoporosis. It provides a score called a T-score:
- +1 to –1 indicates normal bone density.
- –1 to –2.5 indicates osteopenia.
- –2.5 or lower means osteoporosis.
Causes of Osteopenia
Some things can make bone loss happen more quickly, leading to osteopenia, such as:
- Medical conditions such as hyperthyroidism.
- Medications such as prednisone and some treatments for cancer, heartburn, high blood pressure and seizures.
- Hormonal changes during menopause.
- Poor nutrition, especially a diet too low in calcium or vitamin D.
- Surgery on the gastrointestinal system, which can affect the body’s ability to absorb needed nutrients and minerals.
- Unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol or caffeine, and not exercising.
- Diet tips for Osteopenia
For strong bones, you need a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D. High-calcium foods include:
- Dairy products such as yogurt, low-fat milk, and cheese
- Green vegetables such as broccoli and collard greens
- Sardines and salmon, with bones
Your body makes its own vitamin D when sunlight hits your skin. If you spend a few minutes outdoors in the sunshine each day, you get at least some of the vitamin D you need. Don’t spend too much time in the sun, though — that raises your risk of skin cancer. A few foods naturally have vitamin D. Others, such as grains and dairy foods, are fortified with it.
Good sources of Vitamin D include:
- Fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel
- Fish liver oils
- Beef liver
- Egg yolks
- Fortified breakfast cereals, juices, milk products, yogurt, and margarine