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July 24, 2010, Last Updated August 2, 2011
By Louise Carr, Contributing Columnist

Everybody needs strong, healthy bones but it’s a fact of life
that your bone mass decreases as you get older. Osteopenia
is an early sign of bone loss and a wake-up call for your
bone health. Osteopenia is a condition that refers to your
bone mineral density. With osteopenia you have a lower than
normal bone marrow density but it’s not low enough to be
considered as severe as osteoporosis. Having osteopenia
means there is a greater risk of developing osteoporosis as
time passes. What causes osteopenia? What are your risk for
developing osteopenia? Are there any natural remedies for

If you are suffering from osteopenia, taking steps to protect
your bone mass going forward can make all the difference
for your future mobility and well-being.

According to the National Institutes of Health, around 34
million Americans have osteopenia and more than 10 million
adults in the United States are affected by osteoporosis.
Women are much more likely to suffer from osteopenia and
osteoporosis, and make up 80 percent of sufferers. This is
because women have a lower peak bone marrow density
than men and  a woman’s bone mass declines much faster
than a man's due to hormonal changes taking place at

What Causes Osteopenia?

Bones naturally get thinner as you grow older. Once you’re
past the age of 30, bone cells are reabsorbed by the body
more quickly than new bone can be made. This makes bones
weaker and more prone to breaking. Osteopenia may also be
caused by a naturally low bone density, due to a variety of
diseases and treatments such as chemotherapy. There are no
symptoms of this condition but your doctor can test you for
signs of osteopenia by measuring the levels of minerals in
your bones such as calcium and phosphate. The denser the
content, the healthier your bones are.

Will I Develop Osteoporosis if I Have Osteopenia?

Not everyone that has osteopenia will develop osteoporosis,
a condition characterized by painful bone fractures. But
osteopenia can turn into osteoporosis if it’s not caught and
treated early. Along with certain drugs and medication, the
following remedies and lifestyle changes can help give your
bones a fighting chance.  

Top 10 Natural Remedies for Osteopenia

1. Calcium, Calcium And More Calcium

Calcium is your most important ally when it comes to looking
after your bones and preventing osteopenia and
osteoporosis. The mineral calcium is critical to bone health
and the National Institutes of Health and National
Osteoporosis Foundation suggest adults aged 19 to 50 years
old should get 1,000 mg of calcium each day. If you’re over
the age of 50 you should be getting 1,200 mg/ day. The
most effective way to boost bone health with calcium is to
eat calcium-rich foods every day. Foods high in calcium
include non-fat milk, low-fat yogurt, leafy green vegetables,
salmon, tofu and calcium-enriched products like breakfast
cereals. One 8-ounce glass of skim milk has around 300mg
of calcium and an 8-ounce serving of plain low-fat yogurt
contains 452 mg.

Vitamin D Also Helps Prevent Osteopenia

To help your body absorb vital calcium, doctors recommend
Vitamin D. According to the National Cancer Institute,
Vitamin D helps maintain adequate blood levels of the
calcium and phosphate needed for bone formation, increased
strength and density, growth, and repair.

The most effective way to get enough Vitamin D is through
exposure to sunlight and your body is well-equipped for this
process. However, The Institute of Medicine of the National
Academies recommends people up to the age of 60 maintain
a daily intake of 200 IU of Vitamin D a day on the
assumption that the vitamin is not being made in the skin
through sun exposure.

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests that
older adults, people with dark skin, and people who don’t
get enough sun should consume extra
Vitamin D from food
or supplements. Vitamin D-rich foods are eggs, salmon,
mackerel, sardines and swordfish as well as fortified cereals
and milk. According to a 1993 study by Drs. Saltman and
Strause of the University of California at San Diego,  zinc,
copper and manganese may further enhance the effects of
calcium and Vitamin D.

Soy Protein Strengthen Bones?

According to a 2007 study from the University of Messina in
Italy,  a compound found in soy called "genistein" may help
strengthen the bones of osteopenia sufferers.

Lead researcher  Francesco Squadrito, MD, studied 389
postmenopausal Italian women with osteopenia over two
years. The women first followed a low-fat, healthy diet for a
month, then were split into two groups. One group took pills
containing genistein and Vitamin D, the other received a

After two years, bone scans showed an increase in bone
mineral density in women taking genistein and bone density
dropped in women taking the placebo. However, further
research concerning soy and osteopenia is mixed. One
randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled 2008 study by
a research team led by Dr. Elizabeth Brink and Dr. Veronica
Coxam looked at 237 menopausal women and found
consuming soy-based isoflavones for one year had no effect
on bone density. It may be that the "right" kind of soy, with
the soy compound genistein, is crucial to bone-density
increase. Certain other compounds in soy can collect calcium
and make it unavailable to the body for bone-building
benefits. Problems can arise if you eat a lot of soy but
consume little calcium.

Strontium Can Help Build Bone Mass

The mineral strontium (as strontium ranelate) could be an
ally  in treating osteopenia and osteoporosis. In a 2004
double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 1,649
postmenopausal women with osteoporosis, doctors from
Edouard Herriot Hospital in Lyons, France found that
stronthium signifcantly increased bone density. In the 3-year
study,participants took a 2g dose of strontium each day and
increased bone density in the spine and hip. The mineral
significantly decreased the rate of
hip fractures. It is thought
that strontium has a dual effect, increasing bone formation
as well as decreasing bone loss.

Vitamin K May Prevent Bone Breakdown

One 2003 study published in the journal Calcified Tissue
found participants who took Vitamin K lost less
bone than those taking a placebo.

The study looked at 181 postmenopausal women between
the ages of 50 and 60, some of which took a placebo and
some of which took supplements including Vitamin K,
magnesium and calcium (Braam LA, Knapen MH, Geusens P,
et al ‘Vitamin K1 supplementation retards bone loss in
postmenopausal women between 50 and 60 years of age’,
2003). Green leafy vegetables are among the best food
sources of Vitamin K.  

Not all scientists would agree that Vitamin K helps
osteopenia. According to a 2008 study from the University of
Toronto, Canada, high does of Vitamin K did not prevent
bone mineral density decline although it did offer protection
against fracture and cancer. The findings came from a
randomized controlled study called the "Evaluate the Clinical
use of vitamin K Supplementation in Postmenopausal Women
with Osteopenia" (ECKO) trial.

Eat Protein to Prevent Bone Loss

Your bones are around 50 percent protein and you need a
steady supply of protein in the body for effective bone
repair. Jane Kerstetter, professor of nutrition at the
University of Connecticut, agrees that protein effectively
builds bone but states that many American women don’t get
enough. The suggested daily protein intake is 0.8 grams of
protein per 2.2 pounds of body weight for men and women
over the age of 19. One 2002 study from the Human
Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University,
Boston found that calcium supplements may do a better job
of strengthening bones in people with a high intake of
protein compared with those who consume less. Protein
super-foods include fish, meat, milk, yogurt and eggs. 3
ounces of light tuna contains 22g of protein, while 3 ounces
of cooked chicken, turkey, or pork tenderloin has around

Lead An Active Lifestyle To Prevent Osteopenia

Exercise is highly important for building and maintaining
strong bones because bone grows in response to the stress
placed upon it. According to the National Osteoporosis
Foundation, the best activities for strengthening and building
bone are weight-bearing exercises such as walking, dancing,
running or aerobics, which make you work against gravity.
Muscle-strengthening exercises such as lifting weights are
also effective. To benefit, you should take 30-40 minutes’
exercise, three times a week. While swimming and cycling
are great fat-burners, they don’t help prevent osteopenia
because they don’t put enough stress on your bones. In
fact, according to a 2007 study from the University of
Missouri-Columbia, men engaging predominantly in low-
impact forms of exercise have an increased incidence of
osteopenia. The study measured bone mineral density in 43
competitive male cyclists and runners aged 20 to 59 and
found the cyclists had significantly lower bone mineral
density of the whole body, especially of the lumbar spine,
compared to runners. A total of 63 percent of the cyclists
had osteopenia of the spine or hip compared with 19 percent
of the runners.

Cut Down on Carbonated Drinks To Protect Your Bones

Not only do nearly all soft drinks lack calcium, they may
actually cause your body to lose the mineral when you drink
it. Soft drinks contain phosphoric acid, which can increase
calcium excretion in your urine; bad news for bone health. A
2006 study from the Human Nutrition Research Center on
Aging, Tufts University, Boston, found colas, but not other
carbonated beverages, are associated with low bone mineral
density in older women (Tucker KL, Morita K, Qiao N, et al.)
Cola intake was associated with significantly lower BMD of
the hip in the study of 1,413 women and 1,125 men and
results were similar for diet colas. While the occasional soda
is OK, vary your drinks and try fortified orange juice, fruit
smoothies or low-fat chocolate milk.

Coffee Can Increase Bone Loss

Caffeine can strip calcium from bones, making them weaker.
Coffee is a major source of caffeine, with a 16-ounce cup
containing up to 320mg, 20mg more than the recommended
intake for optimum bone health. Although tea also contains
caffeine, studies suggest it doesn’t harm bone and may help
increase bone density. A 2000 study published in the
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Hegarty V, May H,
Khaw K) suggests that black tea may help protect against

Follow A Low Salt Diet To Prevent Osteopenia

Salt is bad for the bones, as well as being a real health risk
concerning heart disease and stroke. Research has found
that postmenopausal women with a high-salt diet lose more
bone minerals than other women of the same age. “The salt
content of the typical American diet is one of the reasons
why calcium requirements are so high,” says Linda K.
Massey, PhD, RD, professor of human nutrition at
Washington State University in Spokane. She states that
table salt causes calcium loss which weakens bones. The
2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise limiting sodium
to 2,300 mg a day, around a teaspoon. You should make
sure your calcium and Vitamin D intake is sufficiently high to
off-set the dangers of salt in your diet.

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Salt? /Sugar-The Disease Connection / Are Diet Sodas Bad
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