If you are over 50, vegan, or female, you need to read this. If you are underweight, post-menopausal, or avoid exercise, you should read this. If you have bones, you should read this. Actually, everyone should read this. It’s about your bones. And it’s a wake-up call to take care of your bones before it’s too late.
I am 53 years old, and I do not take my age for granted. I eat a whole foods, vegan diet. I do yoga, power walk, or use my TRX equipment at least 5 days per week. I get 8 hours of sleep every night and practice meditation every morning. I wear sunblock when I go outside, and I take vitamin D and turmeric every morning. So imagine my shock when my gynecologist told me my bone density test indicated a decrease in bone density. I have osteopenia, I condition that can lead to osteoporosis and fractures.
What is osteopenia? And how did this happen to me?
Bones are made of collagen and calcium. This combination of minerals makes our bones dense and strong. Bones reach their peak density at the age of 35 years old, but density begins to decline at the age of 50. When bone density begins to fall below the normal level, the condition is termed osteopenia. Although it is not a disease, it can be a precursor for a more serious condition called osteoporosis. A person with osteoporosis has a significant loss of bone density and is at high risk for bone fractures, stooped posture, and pain.
Bone density is measured through a simple x-ray procedure. The bones in the hip, thigh, spine, and sometimes the wrist are analyzed to determine the mineral content. The resulting T-score is a mark of your bone density compared to what a normal bone density should be. A T-score of -1 and above is normal. A score between -1 and -2.5 indicates osteopenia. And a score below -2.5 is a sign of osteoporosis.
Osteopenia does not require treatment, but it is a call to action to take measures to prevent progression to osteoporosis. And we all need to prevent osteoporosis. When osteoporosis develops, a minor injury, fall, even a cough, can lead to a fracture. It can be painful and debilitating.
What are the risk factors for osteopenia?
- Lack of weight-bearing exercise
- Low vitamin D levels
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Tobacco use
- Long-term use of steroids
Okay, so I exercise every day, take a vitamin D supplement, rarely finish a glass of wine, don’t smoke, and do not use steroids. So how did I develop osteopenia? Well, there are more risk factors.
Unavoidable risk factors for osteopenia:
- Post-menopausal or Peri-menopausal
- Thin, small-boned, or underweight
- A family history of osteoporosis
Well there you go. Check, check, check, and on down the list. So, for many women, osteopenia may be an inevitable part of getting older. But here’s the wake-up call. You can prevent progression to osteoporosis. And the sooner you take the following steps, the better. Osteopenia can be halted before it progresses to osteoporosis.
Here are more tips to help you take care of your bones:
- Avoid tobacco use.
- Drink alcohol in moderation. That equates to no more than 1 drink per day for a female and 2 drinks per day for a male.
- Caffeine is okay, but make sure to get at least 8 glasses of water per day.
- Know your vitamin D levels and ask your doctor if a supplement is warranted
- Exercise at least 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week. Include weight-bearing exercises such as walking, lifting weights, or dancing.
- Eat a foods that are high in calcium, protein, and vitamin D
- Dark leafy greens(collards, turnip greens, mustard greens, kale)
- Dairy or fortified nut milks
- Oatmeal or fortified cereals
- Tempeh, tofu, edamame
- Maintain a healthy weight for your height.
- Know your numbers. You should ask your doctor about a bone density test if
- You are post-menopausal
- You are a female over 65 or a male over 70 years old
- You have had long-term steroid use
- You are receiving or have received treatment for cancer that included radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or hormone therapy
- You have a family history of osteoporosis or any of the risk factors listed above
After talking with some of my healthcare providers, I am no longer upset about my new ‘condition’. I see it as a wake-up call to pay more attention to my bones. I will maintain my healthy diet and continue to exercise. I will have my vitamin D levels checked to make sure I am getting enough vitamin D through my supplement. Osteopenia does not necessarily mean I will have osteoporosis as long as I continue to take good care of my body and my bones.