Treating My Osteopenia

osteopeniaGrowing old. What a nuisance. Wrinkles, gray hair, enlargement of the suborbicularis oculi fat pads – a.k.a. eye bags big enough to pack a picnic lunch. And now bones returning to dust right inside of me.

This tirade stems from the results of my Dual X-ray (DXA) bone densitometry test. In the past eleven years, my osteopenia has gotten worse (surely, it’s a measurement error!) to greatly increasing my risk of hip and spine fractures as I age. (But I love to ice skate – talk about falls!)

No surprise as I have so many risks: older, white, small-boned female, lowish BMI (cosmetically slim), never took estrogen, bisphosphonates (Actonel) did nothing, used to smoke, loves wine (modestly reduces calcium absorption) and coffee (modestly increases calcium excretion).

My diet is balanced enough, albeit lowish in protein because I don’t eat much meat and eggs and, like most others, I don’t meet my personal requirements for calcium and vitamin D: 1,200 milligrams of calcium – some say 1,500 – and 600 i.u. of vitamin D– some say 800) per day. And what about boron, vitamin K, phosphorous, and other key nutrients for bone health? I’ll comment only if you ask.

I do eat yogurt faithfully and, sometimes, milk in cereal. I eat my dark leafy greens and nuts and, sometimes, fish with bones; however, calcium from plants is not well-absorbed (oxalates and phytates interfere with absorption), I rarely drink a glass of milk or eat cheese, and I never have calcium-fortified orange juice or breakfast bars. (Personal preference: yuck!) According to the lab, I’m not vitamin D deficient (vitamin D is needed for calcium absorption), but I’m sure I don’t eat enough fatty fish, liver, cod liver oil, egg yolks, radiated mushrooms, or fortified milk – most yogurt is not fortified  – and I don’t get enough strong sun. But I’m not about to eat more because, as a short older women, I practically can’t eat without gaining weight. (Young ones, wait and see.)

And so, I have to take supplemental calcium and vitamin D. I take Nature Made adult gummies Calcium with Vitamin D3 four a day at doses of 500 mg or less between meals to increase absorption. (Add another 150 calories.) These suplements are acceptable because, frankly, they taste like candy. Each gummie contains 250 milligrams of calcium and 350 i.u. of vitamin D, which should keep me within the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for  gender and age. The calcium is tricalcium phosphate, a well absorbed source, and vitamin D3 (vs. D2), the best form. Still, research tells me not to expect much.

Weight-bearing exercise also helps to build bone. I walk a lot, jump on the mini-trampoline a bit and do Pilates consistently. But that doesn’t cut it. Now, I have to take up running or jumping up onto and down from a box at least 15 inches high to generate enough force to help build bone. (See the New York Times, Why High-Impact Exercise Is Good for Your Bones.) Since 15 inches is more than a quarter of my height, jumping on the box won’t work, and if I liked to run, I’d have done it by now, but like the supplements, it’s therapeutic. What a nuisance.

Your thoughts: Have you had a bone densitometry test? What did it reveal? Do you take calcium supplements?

5 thoughts on “Treating My Osteopenia

  1. I’ve been recently diagnosed with osteopenia, but have knee issues so lunges, squats, jumps etc are out of the picture. I’ve just bought a rebounder and had hoped that would help. My treadmill walking can bother my knees.

    You said you do Pilates – is it matt or machine? I’ve been doing machines for several months and hope that it will help my bones. I can see where matt wouldn’t necessarily stress the bones enough.

    • Hi Julia, Thanks for writing. I do Pilates mat and tower classes. I can’t say that it strengthens my bones, but it does strengthen my muscles and my core and it improves my balance and posture, which I assume will make me more steady and graceful, thus less likely to trip and fall. Ultimately, osteoporosis is mainly a problem when you fall and break a bone. (Okay, you can get spontaneous fractures in your 90s, but I can’t worry about that.) Happy jumping!

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