Osteopenia | Knowledge is Power

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This article is a brief overview of osteopenia, what it is, how it can affect our bones, and how we can help manage osteopenia.

by Susan Herndon, BSN, RN

Specializes in Surgical RN.

How To Manage Osteopenia and Strengthen Bones

Osteopenia | Knowledge is Power

Running, jumping, or even walking, would not be possible without the proper structure of our skeletal system. When bone structure is decreased, it makes daily activities difficult, or worse, potentially debilitating. For millions of people over the age of 50, particularly women, a factor that can affect the composition of our bones is osteopenia.

What is Osteopenia?

Bones contain minerals such as phosphorus and calcium that provide strength and structure to the skeletal system. A decrease in the amount of these key minerals usually begins after the age of 30 and can affect the composition of bones and increase the risk for osteopenia. The National Center for Biotechnology Information states that “osteopenia is a below normal decrease in the bone mineral density range.”

Diagnosing Osteopenia

The bone density scan, also known as a (DEXA) scan, is a diagnostic test that can be performed to look at the density of bones. The scan will use x-rays to look at the amount of minerals in different areas of bone, generally being of the spine and hip. Areas showing decreased segments of mineralization can help determine risks for osteopenia.

What are the Risk Factors?

Research by the Mayo Clinic notes that the following can be factors to osteopenia:

  • Alcohol & Smoking
  • Diet & Nutrition
  • Family History
  • Lifestyle & Exercise
  • Family History

For the body to effectively use and distribute the essential vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin D and calcium consumed; it needs to have a healthy structure capable of such tasks. Research suggests that calcium absorption, as well as the mineralization process of bone, can be hindered by heavy consumption of alcohol and smoking. A diet lacking a balance of vitamin-enriched foods and a sedentary lifestyle can also contribute to osteopenia.

Ways to Manage Osteopenia

Design Your Plate

Research suggests that maintaining a well-balanced diet by eating a variety of fruits fish, dairy, and foods rich in calcium can help our bone health. Examples of healthy fruits and vegetables are oranges, papaya, strawberries, and raisins, along with vegetables such as broccoli, sweet potatoes, and spinach. For alternate dietary choices, research by NHS notes that “foods such as soya beans, dried fruit, and fortified cereals are also good sources of calcium and Vitamin D.” Dietary information research from WebMD encourages food choices of dark leafy greens, nuts, and orange juice that are good sources of calcium.

Move Your Body

Staying physically active in your daily routine and incorporating weight-bearing exercise such as walking, can help strengthen bones and manage osteopenia. Studies have shown that exercise can help improve our coordination, help muscles become stronger, reduce stress, and improve our balance. If the weather is a concern, you may find alternative ways to exercise indoors. This can include practicing yoga, use of indoor exercise equipment such as walking on a treadmill, or low-impact aerobics. If the weather permits, a good way to capture Vitamin D could be a walk outdoors, hiking, or activities such as playing tennis, or even working in the yard. Prior to any exercise regimen or physical activity, talk to your doctor to ensure what exercise options are best for you.

Conclusion

Osteopenia can affect millions of people each year. It is a depletion of important vitamins and minerals in our skeletal system. While we may not feel or have symptoms of osteopenia, it is good practice to care for our bone structure. If you choose to consult with your physician, questions that may be helpful could include, based on your age if you are at risk for osteopenia, if exercise is a good option for you, and what dietary or lifestyle options can help you maintain strong bone health.


References/Resources

Smoking and Musculoskeletal Health

What is Osteoporosis and What Causes It?

Osteopenia

Osteoporosis 

Food for Healthy Bones 

7 Healthy Habits to Help You Manage Osteoporosis 

Superfoods for Your Bones

shrn18 is a BSN, RN

1 Article   46 Posts

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2 Comment(s)

NRSKarenRN, BSN, RN

Specializes in Vents, Telemetry, Home Care, Home infusion. Has 45 years experience. 11 Articles; 17,133 Posts

Add to Risk factors: Bariatric Surgery

Metabolic bone disease, resulting in significant ongoing bone loss, is an unintended consequence of bariatric surgery. Therefore, daily vitamin and mineral supplements need to be taken for a lifetime post surgery,  especially Calcium and D3 to prevent ostopenia.

Calcium Citrate taken 3 times a day has been shown to be the best form of calcium supplement post Gastric Bypass (Rouex-En-Y), Sleeve Gastrectomy, Duodenal Switch and Biliopancreatic Diversion with Duodenal Switch surgery to minimize/prevent bone loss..

John Hopkins Medicine Vitamin & Mineral Supplements for Bariatric Procedure

Bariatric Surgery: Bad to the Bone, Part 1

Bariatric Surgery: Bad to the Bone, Part 2

Godsgirl73, MSN, NP

Has 25 years experience. 46 Posts

Those on long-term corticosteroids are also at higher risk for osteopenia and osteoporosis. We need to be making sure patients who take these medications are also taking adequate calcium and vitamin D supplementation. I've seen a few people in their 20s with significant osteopenia secondary to long-term corticosteroid use, which could have been at least partially mitigated if they had received effective nutritional counselling.