Bone mineral density refers to the level of minerals in the bones, which indicates their strength and density. Bone mineral density that falls below the normal levels but is not low enough to be classified as osteoporosis is called osteopenia.
Osteopenia generally doesn’t cause pain or other symptoms. But it’s important to understand how to prevent it because it can progress to osteoporosis, in which the bones are so weak they fracture easily.
Age is one of the main causes of low bone mineral density. With age, bones start losing minerals, heaviness (mass) and structure, which makes them weaker and more prone to breaking.
Several factors may contribute to osteopenia, including eating disorders, metabolism problems, chemotherapy, exposure to radiation, family history, thin body structure, lack of adequate physical activity, smoking, regular consumption of sodas and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.
Also, women are at a higher risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis than men.
There are no defining symptoms of osteopenia. You may experience no pain or other changes as the bones become thinner. This is why it is important to get a bone mineral density test every few years after the age of 35.
If you fall in the high risk category for osteopenia, you can make simple lifestyle and dietary changes now to prevent loss of bone mineral density and the progression to osteoporosis.
Here are the top 10 ways to prevent loss of bone mineral density (osteopenia).
1. Consume Adequate Calcium
Calcium is one of the most important nutrients for improving bone density. Bones are mainly made of calcium, so this nutrient is crucial for preventing any bone-related diseases.
In fact, a diet that is low in calcium contributes to low bone density and early bone loss. People between ages 19 and 50 should consume about 1,000 mg of calcium a day. For women, it is 1,200 mg of calcium a day.
You can get your daily calcium requirement from organic dairy products, sardines, dark green vegetables (such as collard greens, bok choy and broccoli), blackstrap molasses, fortified soy products like tofu, dried fruits (for example dried plums), and a number of other nutritional foods. If you do not consume a balanced diet, you should consult your doctor about taking a calcium supplement.
2. Boost Your Vitamin D Intake
Vitamin D is another important nutrient that supports bone health and plays a key role in reducing the risk of osteopenia. Vitamin D also helps your body better utilize calcium.
A 2014 study by Regis University reports that vitamin D deficiency is a significant factor in osteoporosis and osteopenia. Vitamin D deficiency had a higher statistical significance than exercise history, steroid use and gender.
The recommended daily supplement is 2,000 IU daily for adults.
Plus, you can get vitamin D in eggs, salmon, sardines, swordfish and fortified foods like cereal and orange juice.
The body also produces vitamin D when exposed to the sun, so enjoy 10 to 15 minutes of early morning sun exposure daily.
3. Stay Active
Regular exercise is beneficial for overall health and bone health is no exception. Bone forms and remodels in response to physical stress, hence regular physical activity is helpful for preventing loss of bone mineral density.
In fact, living a sedentary lifestyle is a risk factor for osteopenia and osteoporosis.
For bone health, aim for at least 30 minutes of light weight-bearing activities most days of the week. Activities like walking, hiking and dancing are all good choices to exercise your body and prevent osteopenia.
Exercises with elastic bands can help the bones in the upper body. It can also improve strength and balance, which helps prevent falls and the associated fractures in those who already have osteoporosis.
4. Quit Smoking
Smoking is bad for your overall health and particularly for bone health.
Smoking can prevent the body from efficiently absorbing calcium, thus decreasing bone mass. In fact, smokers are at a higher risk of fractures than non-smokers.
A 2007 study published in Clinical Science reports that smoking appears to exert a negative effect on bone mass at the major sites of osteoporotic fractures, namely the hips, lumbar spine and forearms. This influence appears independent of other risk factors for fractures, such as age, weight, gender and menopausal status.
Try to quit smoking as soon as possible by getting help from professionals as well as family members and friends.
5. Consume Less Caffeine
Coffee has some health benefits when consumed in limited amounts, but unfortunately caffeine in any form is not good for your bone health.
Excess caffeine intake can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb calcium, which is important for bone health.
A 1994 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports daily consumption of caffeine in amounts equal to or greater than that obtained from about two to three servings of brewed coffee may accelerate bone loss from the spine and total body in women with calcium intakes below the recommended dietary allowance of 800 mg.
Another 2001 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that caffeine intake increases the rate of bone loss in elderly women and interacts with vitamin D receptor genotypes.
6. Eat Foods Rich in Vitamin K
You can give a boost to your bone mineral density level with vitamin K. This particular vitamin also helps the body make proteins for healthy bones and reduces the amount of calcium excreted by the body.
A 2007 study published the British Journal of Nutrition reports that better vitamin K status is associated with increased bone mineral content in young girls. However, further studies are still required to examine the association between vitamin K and bone health.
To support your bone health, eat foods rich in vitamin K like kale, Brussels sprouts, turnip greens, fermented dairy products, prunes, and broccoli.