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Can Osteopenia Be Reversed?

Good and bad bone cells and osteoporosis

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Art of the Arm by DJ Lynn

Osteoporosis and osteopenia have come under a lot of controversy in the last few years and after reading a few things recently, I realized I had a personal story about this. I was diagnosed with osteopenia over 14 years ago. This year, after the fractured elbow episodes (read about that in the blog category My Story), I had a dexa (DXA) scan and found out I still had osteopenia with exactly the same score I had 14 years ago. I haven’t done anything more specific to bone health in the last 14 years although I’ve always been relatively active and maintained a healthy diet (except for my cookie problem).

At the time I was diagnosed 14 years ago which was around 2007,  I had read some information about the side effects of bisphosphonates and decided these drugs weren’t for me, at least not at that time. My doctor scolded me – actually got angry – telling me how “stupid” I was (yes, called me stupid!). The doctor in Phoenix said angrily,  “Why would you not take a drug that’s proven to increase your bone density?”

It’s easy to take your bones for granted—until you break one. Bone strength peaks in early adulthood and then gradually declines. For women this process accelerates during the years around menopause, but older men develop brittle bones, too. Genetic, dietary, and lifestyle factors, along with general health, also play key roles in bone health.

Most people don’t realize that bone is active, living tissue that continually rebuilds itself, but this process decreases as we age. The question is can we reverse it? The pharmaceutical industry says yes, but there are lots of questions about that claim.  The problem is that bisphosphonates may increase bone density to some degree or for some period of time although with significant risks and side effects. But that doesn’t necessarily translate into decreased fracture rates, according to Susan Ott, MD, of the University of Washington.

But isn’t early treatment always a good idea? Many doctors say yes, as do countless ads for the drugs, which often target younger women and strongly suggest that the sooner you start, the better. However, critics claim that osteopenia is a creation of the pharmaceu­tical companies and manufacturers of bone-density testing machines. What is certain is that the drug industry funds a great many of the studies relating to bone health, as well as medical conferences and advocacy groups.

The following is from Dr. Susan Brown at Betterbones.com. I highly recommend this site it’s a wealth of information, webinars and more.

5 natural steps to build stronger bones

  1. Get the correct amount of key bone building nutrients.  Eat a wholesome alkaline diet and try high quality nutritional supplementation. Make sure your mineral intake is adequate. This can be easily done by measuring your first morning urine pH. Test your vitamin D level and supplement with enough to reach a 50 to 60 ng blood level all year round.
  2. Build muscle strength. Chronically low muscle mass is associated with low bone mass. Even stronger grip strength and stronger back muscles are associated with higher bone density. If you have been told you have osteopenia in the hip, try to walk more, hop, do heel drops, and jump if you can. All provide bone-stimulating impact to the hip. Also consider using a weighted vest when walking. It makes each step deliver a greater bone stimulating impact to hip.
  3. Avoid bone depleting anti-nutrients. The list is long so you might have to pick away at bone depleting anti-nutrients little by little. High on the list are excessive alcohol (more than two drinks a day), smoking, colas, excessive caffeine, and high sugar intake. Many drugs and medications damage bone and the list seems to expand daily. Steroid drugs such as prednisone rank as the top drug bone-busters, causing roughly 20% of all osteoporosis in the U.S.
  4. Eat enough wholesome food daily. The body is one single unit; if you lose weight you lose bone. The bone weakening from weight loss before menopause is more easily compensated for than that from weight loss after menopause. Make sure you get between 50 and 80 grams of protein daily, depending on your physical activity level.
  5. If needed, work with your doctor to see if there’s any medical cause for osteopenia. If you have ongoing excessive bone loss as measured either by sequential bone density testing or by a bone breakdown marker test such as the NTx , or if you have experienced a low-trauma fracture, steps should be taken to detect hidden causes of this bone loss. 

As you can see, you aren’t powerless when it comes to building stronger bones — even if you’ve been diagnosed with osteopenia. Consider this a window of opportunity to make some nutritional and lifestyle changes.

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