As we age, our bodies become more susceptible to various conditions and diseases. Conditions related to bone density and mass can become a major concern after middle age.
If bone health is important to you, you may have heard of osteopenia and osteoporosis. These conditions can be dangerous for seniors because they increase one’s risk of bone fractures.
These two bone conditions are not the same thing, but may be related. Learn more about osteopenia and how to avoid it in this brief overview of the condition.
What Is Osteopenia?
Osteopenia means one’s bone density is lower than normal peak density, but not low enough to be classified as osteoporosis.
On average, people reach peak bone density at about age 30. Men tend to reach peak bone density slightly later in life than women because loss of bone mass is sped up by hormonal changes that take place during menopause. Although osteopenia is more common in women, men can still develop the condition over time due to nutritional deficiencies and testosterone changes.
If one’s bone density is low compared to normal peak density, it is said they have osteopenia. This means that their risk of developing osteoporosis and breaking bones will increase over time.
What Causes Osteopenia?
Bone density naturally decreases as people age. Beginning in middle age, existing bone cells are reabsorbed by the body faster than new bone cells are made. This occurrence causes bones to lose minerals, mass and structure.
Having osteopenia does not necessarily mean that one has bone loss. Some may just have naturally lower bone density. Others may develop osteopenia as the result of a number of conditions, diseases or treatments.
Some causes include eating disorders, metabolism problems that don’t allow the body to take in enough vitamins and minerals, chemotherapy, medicines such as steroids, or exposure to radiation.
Other causes include having a family history of osteoporosis, being thin, being white or Asian, getting little exercise, smoking, or regularly drinking cola drinks or excessive amounts of alcohol.
Although one’s risk of bones breaking increases with osteopenia, there are no other symptoms. Those with osteopenia will not notice any pain or other changes as their bones lose mass.
It is recommended that women age 65 and older routinely have a bone density test to screen for osteoporosis. If you have a family history of osteoporosis or fear you are at risk for increased bone fractures due to low bone density, you may want to talk to your doctor sooner.
Maintaining Strong Bones
To maintain bone health and strength, make sure you get an adequate amount of calcium and vitamin D. If you are not able to get enough vitamins and minerals from your diet, a dietary supplement may be a good option.
Other things you can do to maintain healthy bones is avoid drinking excessive alcohol, quit smoking and get plenty of exercise.
Osteopenia can happen to anyone, so being aware of your bone health and taking extra measures to ensure bone strength as you age is essential to remaining healthy.