For many women, aging bones become porous, losing bone mineral and mass. These characteristics describe osteopenia, a condition of lower-than-normal bone density that is considered by physicians to be a precursor to osteoporosis.
The National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that more than 10 million Americans have osteoporosis. An additional 34 million suffer from low bone density.
However, there is positive news for women with low bone density. Osteoporosis is a disease that can be prevented, stabilized and, at times, reversed.
“Bone is active tissue – it builds up and breaks down,” says Dr. Russell Rothenberg, a rheumatologist in Bethesda. “It is living tissue that can be corrected.”
Dr. Edward Lipsit, president of Washington Radiology Associates, explains that most women lose their bone density around the time of menopause.
“At the time of menopause and following menopause, most individuals very gradually lose some degree of what’s called bone mineral density,” he says.
Rothenberg says women with a family history of low bone density are more at risk for osteopenia.
“If your mother is humped over with a dowager’s hump, you are going to be concerned about getting a bone density test,” he says.
Additionally, smokers, chronic drinkers, small-boned women and those intolerant of lactose are at risk for osteopenia and osteoporosis.
Lipsit says women can be proactive in preventing osteopenia and osteoporosis. He recommends a diet rich in calcium, vitamin D, fruits and vegetables. Lipsit also suggests regular weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercise.