What is Osteopenia?
Osteopenia is a condition marked by low bone mass. Although people with osteopenia have less dense bone than normal, the condition is not as severe as osteoporosis. However, people with osteopenia are at an increased risk for developing osteoporosis if their condition is left untreated.
An estimated 18 million people in the U.S. have osteopenia.
Risk Factors for Osteopenia
Because aging-related processes deplete bone of minerals and mass, your risk for osteopenia (as well as osteoporosis) is likely to increase as you get older.
In addition, women are more prone to osteopenia and osteoporosis than men, due to their naturally lower bone mineral density and certain bone-affecting hormonal changes that occur during menopause.
Other factors that may raise your risk for osteopenia include:
Natural Treatment of Osteopenia
Several natural substances and alternative therapies have been studied for their effects on bone health. Here's a look at some key findings:
1) Tai Chi
In a 2007 study of 49 older adults with osteopenia or osteoporosis, scientists found that 18 weeks of training in tai chi (an ancient Chinese martial art that combines slow, graceful movements with meditation and deep breathing) helped improve balance and may reduce risk of falling.
A systematic review published the same year concluded that tai chi may be an effective, safe, and practical intervention for maintaining bone mineral density in postmenopausal women. However, the review's authors note that existing studies on tai chi's bone-protecting effects are limited in quantity and quality.
2) Green Tea
Consumption of green tea might improve bone mineral density by stimulating activity in bone-forming cells and inhibiting activity in bone-weakening cells, according to a report published in 2009.
3) Vitamin D
Vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency is common among patients with osteopenia (as well as osteoporosis), suggests a 2006 study of 448 individuals. Vitamin D is essential for helping the body absorb calcium, a mineral key to forming and maintaining bone.
Exposure to the sun's UVB rays helps the body synthesize vitamin D. However, since UV exposure is known to increase your risk for skin cancer, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends obtaining vitamin D from foods and supplements.
Better Bone Health
These strategies can also help preserve bone health:
Kocjan T, Tan TM, Conway GS, Prelevic G. "Vitamin D status in patients with osteopenia or osteoporosis--an audit of an endocrine clinic." Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2006 76(5):307-13.
Maciaszek J, Osiński W, Szeklicki R, Stemplewski R. "Effect of Tai Chi on body balance: randomized controlled trial in men with osteopenia or osteoporosis." Am J Chin Med. 2007;35(1):1-9.
Shen CL, Yeh JK, Cao JJ, Wang JS. "Green tea and bone metabolism." Nutr Res. 2009 29(7):437-56.
Wayne PM, Kiel DP, Krebs DE, Davis RB, Savetsky-German J, Connelly M, Buring JE. "The effects of Tai Chi on bone mineral density in postmenopausal women: a systematic review." Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2007 88(5):673-80.