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July 24, 2010, last updated April 21, 2016
By Louise Carr, Contributing Columnist

[Health and fitness articles are reviewed by our team of
Doctors, Registered Nurses, Certified trainers and other
members of our Editorial Board.]

Everybody needs strong, healthy bones but it’s a fact of life
that your bone mass decreases as you get older. Osteopenia
is an early sign of bone loss and a wake-up call for your
bone health.

Osteopenia is a condition that refers to your bone mineral
density. With osteopenia you have a lower than normal bone
marrow density but it’s not low enough to be considered as
severe as osteoporosis. Having osteopenia means there is a
greater risk of developing osteoporosis as time passes. What
causes osteopenia? What puts you at risk for developing
osteopenia? Are there any natural remedies for osteopenia?

If you are suffering from osteopenia, taking steps to protect
further deterioration of your bone mass going forward can
make all the difference for your future mobility and well-

According to the National Institutes of Health, around 34
million Americans have osteopenia and more than 10 million
adults in the United States are affected by
Women are much more likely to suffer from osteopenia and
osteoporosis, and make up 80 percent of sufferers. This is
because women have a lower peak bone marrow density
than men and  a woman’s bone mass declines much faster
than a man's due to hormonal changes taking place at

What Causes Osteopenia?

Bones naturally get thinner as you grow older. Once you’re
past the age of 30, bone cells are reabsorbed by the body
more quickly than new bone can be made. This makes bones
weaker and more prone to breaking. Osteopenia may also be
caused by a naturally low bone density, due to a variety of
diseases and treatments such as chemotherapy. There are no
symptoms of this condition but your doctor can test you for
signs of osteopenia by measuring the levels of minerals in
your bones such as calcium and phosphate. The denser the
content, the healthier your bones are.

Will I Develop Osteoporosis if I Have Osteopenia?

Not everyone who has osteopenia will develop osteoporosis,
a condition characterized by painful bone fractures. But
osteopenia can turn into osteoporosis if it’s not caught and
treated early. Along with certain drugs and medication, the
following remedies and lifestyle changes can help give your
bones a fighting chance.  

Top 10 Natural Remedies for Osteopenia

1. Calcium, Calcium And More Calcium

Calcium is your most important ally when it comes to looking
after your bones and preventing osteopenia and

The mineral calcium is critical to bone health and the National
Institutes of Health and National Osteoporosis Foundation
suggest adults aged 19 to 50 years old should get 1,000 mg
of calcium each day.

If you’re over the age of 50 you should be getting 1,200
mg/ day. The most effective way to boost bone health with
calcium is to eat calcium-rich foods every day.

Foods high in calcium include non-fat milk, low-fat yogurt,
leafy green vegetables, salmon, tofu and calcium-enriched
products like breakfast cereals. One 8-ounce glass of skim
milk has around 300mg of calcium and an 8-ounce serving of
plain low-fat yogurt contains 452 mg. (Bookmark a list of
calcium rich foods.)

Vitamin D Also Helps Prevent Osteopenia

To help your body absorb vital calcium, doctors recommend
Vitamin D. According to the National Cancer Institute,
Vitamin D helps maintain adequate blood levels of the
calcium and phosphate needed for bone formation, increased
strength and density, growth, and repair.

The most effective way to get enough Vitamin D is through
exposure to sunlight and your body is well-equipped for this

Unfortunately, many people in the US are deficient in Vitamin
D. A 2011 study from Slippery Rock University of
Pennsylvania estimated that 41.6% of people in the US of all
races get less than the recommended amount of Vitamin D.

To get enough Vitamin D, you should get direct sun
exposure for half the time it takes your skin to tan, advises
the US Vitamin D Council. For example, if you tan after being
in the direct summer sun for 30 minutes, then you only need
15 minutes of sun exposure to get enough Vitamin D.  The
darker you are, and the farther you live from the equator,
the more sun exposure you will need to produce the same
amount of Vitamin D.

The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies
recommends people up to the age of 60 maintain a daily
intake of 200 IU of Vitamin D a day on the assumption that
the vitamin is not being made in the skin through sun

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests that
older adults, people with dark skin, and people who don’t
get enough sun should consume extra
Vitamin D from food
or supplements. Vitamin D-rich foods are eggs, salmon,
mackerel, sardines and swordfish as well as fortified cereals
and milk.

Remember your Mom making you take a spoonful of cod
liver oil in winter?  A spoon of cod liver oil contains 400 IUs
of Vitamin D.

According to a 1993 study by Drs. Saltman and Strause of
the University of California at San Diego,  zinc, copper and
manganese may further enhance the effects of calcium and
Vitamin D.

What is the optimal daily combination of Vitamin D and

To obtain optimal bone health, you should get 1000 to 1200
mg of calcium with 800 IUs of Vitamin D, according to a
2007 joint study from the US and the Netherlands (Leuven
University Center for Metabolic Bone Diseases, Katholieke
Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, and Brigham and Women's
Hospital, Boston).

Soy Protein Strengthen Bones?

According to a 2007 study from the University of Messina in
Italy,  a compound found in soy called "genistein" may help
strengthen the bones of osteopenia sufferers.

Lead researcher  Francesco Squadrito, MD, studied 389
postmenopausal Italian women with osteopenia over two
years. The women first followed a low-fat, healthy diet for a
month, then were split into two groups. One group took pills
containing genistein and Vitamin D, the other received a

After two years, bone scans showed an increase in bone
mineral density in women taking genistein and bone density
dropped in women taking the placebo. However, further
research concerning soy and osteopenia is mixed.

One randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled 2008
study by a research team led by Dr. Elizabeth Brink and Dr.
Veronica Coxam looked at 237 menopausal women and
found consuming soy-based isoflavones for one year had no
effect on bone density. It may be that the "right" kind of
soy, with the soy compound genistein, is crucial to bone-
density increase. Certain other compounds in soy can collect
calcium and make it unavailable to the body for bone-
building benefits. Problems can arise if you eat a lot of soy
but consume little calcium.

Strontium Can Help Build Bone Mass

The mineral strontium (as strontium ranelate) could be an
ally  in treating osteopenia and osteoporosis. In a 2004
double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 1,649
postmenopausal women with osteoporosis, doctors from
Edouard Herriot Hospital in Lyon, France found that
stronthium signifcantly increased bone density. In the 3-year
study,participants took a 2g dose of strontium each day and
increased bone density in the spine and hip. The mineral
significantly decreased the rate of
hip fractures. It is thought
that strontium has a dual effect, increasing bone formation
as well as decreasing bone loss.

Vitamin K May Prevent Bone Breakdown

One 2003 study published in the journal Calcified Tissue
found participants who took Vitamin K lost less
bone than those taking a placebo.

The study looked at 181 post-menopausal women between
the ages of 50 and 60, some of whom took a placebo and
some of which took supplements including Vitamin K,
magnesium and calcium (Braam LA, Knapen MH, Geusens P,
et al ‘Vitamin K1 supplementation retards bone loss in post-
menopausal women between 50 and 60 years of age’,
2003). Green leafy vegetables are among the best food
sources of Vitamin K.  

Not all scientists would agree that Vitamin K helps
osteopenia. According to a 2008 study from the University of
Toronto, Canada, high does of Vitamin K did not prevent
bone mineral density decline although it did offer protection
against bone fracture and cancer. The findings came from a
randomized controlled study called the "Evaluate the Clinical
use of vitamin K Supplementation in Postmenopausal Women
with Osteopenia" (ECKO) trial.

At this point it's hard to know, based on the current state of
scientific research, whether Vitamin K actually prevents
osteopenia and
osteoporosis but here is important anecdotal
evidence that it does. The food that is highest in Vitamin K is
"natto", a femented soy bean dish which is eaten in some
regions of Japan. Studies have found that in those regions in
Japan where natto is eaten as a part of the traditional
breakfast osteopenia and osteoporosis are almost non-
existent, while those regions where natto is not eaten have
rates of osteoporosis consistent with the high rates found in
the Western world.

If you don't have access to natto, try eating gouda cheese,
which is also a food rich in Vitamin K.

Eat Protein to Prevent Bone Loss

Your bones are around 50 percent protein and you need a
steady supply of protein in the body for effective bone
repair. Jane Kerstetter, professor of nutrition at the
University of Connecticut, agrees that protein effectively
builds bone but states that many American women don’t get

The suggested daily protein intake is 0.8 grams of protein
per 2.2 pounds of body weight for men and women over the
age of 19. One 2002 study from the Human Nutrition
Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston found
that calcium supplements may do a better job of
strengthening bones in people with a high intake of protein
compared with those who consume less. Protein super-foods
include fish, meat, milk, yogurt and eggs. Three ounces of
light tuna contains 22g of protein, while 3 ounces of cooked
chicken, turkey, or pork tenderloin has around 20g.

Lead An Active Lifestyle To Prevent Osteopenia

Exercise is highly important for building and maintaining
strong bones because bone grows in response to the stress
placed upon it. According to the National Osteoporosis
Foundation, the best activities for strengthening and building
bone are weight-bearing exercises such as walking, dancing,
running or aerobics, which make you work against gravity.

Muscle-strengthening exercises such as lifting weights are
also effective. To benefit, you should take 30-40 minutes’
exercise, three times a week.

What about swimming and cycling? While swimming and
cycling are great fat-burners, they do not help prevent
osteopenia because they don’t put enough stress on your

In fact, according to a 2007 study from the University of
Missouri-Columbia, men engaging predominantly in low-
impact forms of exercise have an increased incidence of
osteopenia. The study measured bone mineral density in 43
competitive male cyclists and runners aged 20 to 59 and
found the cyclists had significantly lower bone mineral
density of the whole body, especially of the lumbar spine,
compared to runners. A total of 63% of the cyclists had
osteopenia of the spine or hip compared with 19 percent of
the runners.

Cut Down on Carbonated Drinks To Protect Your Bones

If you want to protect your bones, you have to cut way back
on the soft drinks.

Not only do nearly all soft drinks lack calcium,
they may
actually cause your body to lose the mineral when you drink

Soft drinks contain phosphoric acid, which can increase
calcium excretion in your urine --- bad news for bone health.

A 2006 study from the Human Nutrition Research Center on
Aging, Tufts University, Boston, found colas, but not other
carbonated beverages, are associated with low bone mineral
density in older women (Tucker KL, Morita K, Qiao N, et al.)
Cola intake was associated with significantly lower BMD of
the hip in the study of 1,413 women and 1,125 men and
results were similar for diet colas.

While the occasional soda is OK, vary your drinks and try
fortified orange juice, fruit smoothies or low-fat chocolate
milk. (Read more about
health dangers of diet sodas.)

Coffee Can Increase Bone Loss

Caffeine can strip calcium from bones, making them weaker.
Coffee is a major source of caffeine, with a 16-ounce cup
containing up to 320mg, 20mg more than the recommended
intake for optimum bone health. Although tea also contains
caffeine, studies suggest it doesn’t harm bone and may help
increase bone density. A 2000 study published in the
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Hegarty V, May H,
Khaw K) suggests that black tea may help protect against

Follow A Low Salt Diet To Prevent Osteopenia

Salt is bad for the bones, as well as being a real health risk
concerning heart disease and stroke. Research has found
that postmenopausal women with a high-salt diet lose more
bone minerals than other women of the same age. “The salt
content of the typical American diet is one of the reasons
why calcium requirements are so high,” says Linda K.
Massey, PhD, RD, professor of human nutrition at
Washington State University in Spokane. She states that
table salt causes calcium loss which weakens bones.

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise limiting
sodium to 2,300 mg a day, around a teaspoon. You should
make sure your calcium and Vitamin D intake is sufficiently
high to off-set the dangers of salt in your diet. (Read more
how much is too much salt.)

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salt lose are at higher risk for
Eating gouda cheese can help to
restore bone density.