Progressive bone density loss is the major symptom associated with osteopenia and osteoporosis. Loss of bone density results in bones that are thin, weak and easily fractured. According to the medical website UpToDate, more than 1.3 million osteoporosis-associated fractures occur every year in the United States. For this reason, it is important that women especially take steps to maintain and improve bone density. Common strategies used to increase bone density include increasing daily intake of calcium and vitamin D, either through diet modification or supplements, exercise and medication.
Increasing Calcium and Vitamin D Intake
Increasing your daily intake of calcium and vitamin D, whether by making changes to your diet or taking supplemental pills, is crucial to bone health. Taking calcium reduces bone loss and decreases the chance of a fracture, while vitamin D helps calcium to be properly absorbed. UpToDate recommends that premenopausal women, and men, consume 1,000 mg of calcium each day and that post-menopausal women who are not taking estrogen consume 1,500 mg per day. Post-menopausal women are more at risk for bone density loss because the menstrual hormone estrogen plays an important role in protecting against bone loss.
The major sources of calcium in the diet are dairy products and dark leafy greens, such as spinach. In addition, many cereals and juices are fortified with calcium. A natural source of vitamin D is the sun, since the skin produces vitamin D after sun exposure. Milk is a good dietary source of vitamin D. When it is difficult to get enough calcium and vitamin D from the diet, supplements can be used. Calcium carbonate is an inexpensive and effective form of supplemental calcium. According to UpToDate, calcium absorption is better if the daily dose is divided into two portions--one in the morning and one in the evening. Supplemental vitamin D can be taken in pill form alone or as part of a multivitamin.
Exercise is an excellent natural way to increase bone density. New bone growth is stimulated when you engage in exercises that put stress on your bones. A 1994 Tufts University study showed that women between the ages of 50 and 70 who engaged in regular exercise maintained or increased their bone density, whereas their peers who didn't exercise lost bone density.
Good weight-bearing exercises to increase bone density include aerobics, stair climbing, cycling with resistance, dancing and weight-lifting. If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia, it is important to check with your doctor before beginning a new exercise program. Dr. Kate Lindemann recommends on her osteopenia website, Osteopenia3, this simple exercise to do in your home: Focus on getting up from a chair without using your arms or hands. Not only will exercise help you to increase bone density, it will also help to prevent the likelihood of falls that could result in a bone fracture.
Medications to Increase Bone Density
There are several medications available by prescription that you can take to increase bone density. A common class of drugs used for this purpose are the biphosphanates. These include the popular drugs risedronate, known as Actonel, and alendronate, known as Fosamax. Biphosphanates prevent bone-density loss by preventing the normal resorption of bone by a specialized type of bone cells called osteoclasts. According to Endocrine Web, biphosphanates have been proven in studies to lead to increased bone mineral density in the spine and hip. Also according to Endocrine Web, calcitonin drugs such as miacalcin also work by inhibiting the activity of osteoclasts and therefore resorption, resulting in increases in bone mass. Calcitonin is a hormone naturally produced by the thyroid, but synthetically produced in the drug form.
Lastly, estrogen replacement therapy is helpful in improving bone density in post-menopausal women. According to a report published by the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, the estrogen deficiency that occurs with menopause is a major factor leading to loss of bone density in women. Since estrogen prevents bone loss by inhibiting bone resorption, treatment with synthetic estrogen, known as estrogen replacement therapy, is another technique used to improve bone density.
- UpToDate: Calcium and vitamin D for bone health
- Osteopenia3: Best bone density exercises for your osteopenia
- "Journal of the American Medical Association": Effects of high-intensity strength training on multiple risk factors for osteoporotic fractures; ME Nelson et al.; December 1994.
- Endocrine Web: The Newest Drugs for the Treatment of Osteoporosis
- NCBI Bookshelf: Hormone Replacement Therapy and Osteoporosis