February 2, 2017

Ostoepenia is a condition characterized by a decreased density of bone, which leads to bone weakening and an increased risk of breaking the bone (fracture). “Osteo” means bone and “penia” indicates a state of being low in quantity. Therefore, the term osteopenia refers to a bone density which is somewhat less, but not excessively less, than a “standard” young person (someone in their mid to late 20s) of the same gender.

Osteopenia and osteoporosis are related conditions. The difference between osteopenia and osteoporosis is that in osteopenia the bone loss is not as severe as in osteoporosis. That means someone with osteopenia is more likely to fracture a bone than someone with a normal bone density but is less likely to fracture a bone than someone with osteoporosis. Osteopenia increases your risk of developing osteoporosis and is considered a precursor to osteoporosis.

Bone mineral density refers to the measure of the amount of mineral in bones, which determines the strength of the bones. As the mineral density decreases, the bones become thinner and more vulnerable to fractures. This happens when the balance between formation and loss of bone is lost. It indicates weakening of the bones which can eventually lead to osteoporosis. But this does not mean that every person diagnosed with osteopenia necessarily develops osteoporosis. It can lead to osteoporosis only if it is not treated at the right time.

Osteopenia is generally seen in women, though it does occur in men. The bones become thinner and weaker as one grows older. It is observed that after menopause, women are more prone to osteopenia. This is because the production of the hormone, estrogen, reduces after menopause. Estrogen is necessary for having strong and dense bones. There are no major symptoms of osteopenia. One may not realize she is suffering from it until the bones become too weak and tend to break. Though osteopenia can be treated with the help of medications, several side effects are seen in many cases. It is, therefore, advisable to maintain stronger bones with the help of diet or physical exercises and keep osteopenia away.


  • Genetic Factor – The risk of developing osteopenia is high (more than 50%) in patients with a family history of osteoporosis or low bone mass. Such people should consult a doctor when they reach 30 years of age and get their bone density tested.


  • Gender – Females are at a higher risk of suffering from bone loss or low bone density than males. It is mainly due to the fact that as a woman nears her menopausal years, hormonal changes take place in the body. This is the reason why early menopause and post-menopausal women are at high risk of bone loss.



  • Age and race – With age, bones begin to lose minerals along with bone structure and mass. This usually occurs as a person reaches peak bone density at the age of 30 years. Age apart; people belonging to Asian and Caucasian race are at a higher risk of developing osteopenia.


  • Diseases – In case a person has a history of anorexia nervosa (eating disorder) or are suffering from cholestasis (a liver condition) or chronic kidney disease, the chances that the bone density is lowered is high. This is because, they cause problems in absorption of vitamin D and other minerals necessary for maintaining bone health.



  • Medications – Certain medications like anticonvulsant, corticosteroids, chemotherapy and OTC pills like pain relievers and antacids chelate with important minerals calcium causing unavailability of the minerals to the body can cause osteopenia.


  • Malnutrition during pregnancy – It is during the last three months of pregnancy that there is transfer of high amounts of calcium and phosphorus to the fetus. Hence, lack of proper nutrition during these days by the mother increases the risk of poor bone health and low bone density in the child.



  • Faulty metabolism – In some cases, there might be problem in bone metabolism, which in turn affects the absorption and use of vitamins and minerals by the body. Although there might be many causes responsible for this, diagnosis of bone density is the only option to know whether you are suffering from bone loss or not.


  • Deficiency of Vitamin D – Lack of vitamin D in the body hinders with absorption of calcium and phosphorus from kidneys and intestines. If these bone minerals are not absorbed, over time there can be decreased bone density leading to osteopenia.


  • Lifestyle factors:
    • Lack of exercise and sedentary lifestyle
    • Excess alcohol consumption
    • Excessive smoking
    • Excessive stress
    • Crash dieting and eating disorders
    • Excessive coffee, tea, soda, chocolate or sports and energy drinks
    • Young female athletes with eating disorders and amenorrhea. These women have lower body weight, lower fat percentage, and higher incidence of asthma. This increases the risk of osteopenia.
    • Teenage pregnancy



Osteopenia does not cause pain unless a bone is broken (fractured). Interestingly, fractures in patients with osteopenia do not always cause pain. Osteopenia or osteoporosis can be present for many years prior to diagnosis for these reasons. Many bone fractures due to osteopenia or osteoporosis, such as a hip fracture or vertebral fracture (fracture of a bone in the spine), are very painful. However, some fractures, especially vertebral fractures (fractures of the bony building blocks of the spine), can be painless and therefore osteopenia or osteoporosis may go undiagnosed for years.


Osteopenia should be prevented or treated in the early stage in order to avoid osteoporosis. The main objective is to make the bones resistant to fractures.


There are a lot drugs being used to treat osteopenia, some of them being bisphosphonates like alendronate, fosamax, actonel, reclast and boniva, calcitonin, oyster calcium, tamoxifen and fosteum. Bisphosphonates are used on a large scale. They make the bones denser by attaching themselves to the mineral surfaces of the bones. This increases the mineral density of bones. But over a period of years, the bones start to become brittle. The drugs also have various side effects, nasal irritation being the common one. Moreover, these drugs have to be taken for a long period of time, and one becomes dependent upon them. To avoid all this, natural treatment for osteopenia is the safest option. There are numerous ways to treat osteopenia naturally, like making changes in your diet and lifestyle, regular exercises and taking certain supplements.

In addition, several medications can help slow bone loss, reducing the risk of osteoporosis and fractures. These medications include:

  • Forteo (teriparatide), a synthetic form of a hormone that stimulates bone formation
  • Selective estrogen-receptor modulators such as Evista (raloxifene), which have positive estrogen-like effects on the bones
  • Calcitonin, which has been shown to increase bone mineral density

Exercise is important for having strong bones, because bone forms in response to stress. Weight-bearing exercises such as walking, hiking, and dancing are all good choices. Adding exercise with light weights or elastic bands can help the bones in the upper body.


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