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Osteopenia: The Latest Research Findings

What is osteopenia?

Did you know that osteopenia affects half of Americans over age 50¹, and osteoporosis causes an estimated two million broken bones every year?¹³  

Both conditions are a result of lower-than-normal bone mass or bone mineral density (the amount of bone mineral contained in a certain amount of bone). Osteopenia is a less severe form of bone loss than osteoporosis.

As their names suggest, osteopenia and osteoporosis are related diseases. Osteopenia can be viewed as the midway point in a progression of bone breakdown toward osteoporosis. Osteoporosis, or “fragile bone disease”, is the loss of bone mass caused by a deficiency in calcium, vitamin D, magnesium and other vitamins and minerals.²

As we age, we inevitably experience natural bone loss, a process that is expedited for those suffering from chronic illnesses such as renal disease.

Fortunately, there are actionable ways people can slow the progression of osteopenia through diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes.

Detecting osteopenia

Osteopenia symptoms may not always be easy to detect without adequate testing, though signs may include bone fractures, a stooped posture, bone pain, and loss of height.

Osteopenia is detected using a simple, non-invasive test called a dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry scan (DEXA), which is used to measure bone mineral density (BMD). This test provides a “T-score” to measure normal or low BMD.¹  T-scores between +1.0 to -1.0 SD are normal, T-scores between -1.0 to -2.5 SD are diagnosed with osteopenia, and lastly, those with T-scores lower than -2.5 SD are diagnosed with osteoporosis.¹ 

BMD testing is recommended for anyone who is at-risk (due to chronic illnesses or other factors), for women over the age of 65 (due to low estrogen after menopause), and men over the age of 70 who are at risk for bone loss.³

Download our free, ready-to-print guide to educate patients on osteopenia and osteoporosis and its prevention.

What does the latest research say?

Research suggests that calcium, vitamin D, and protein are the key nutrients involved in bone health. Collagen is the most abundant protein in our body.¹⁴ There are 16 types of collagen in our bodies, 80-90% of them are made up of types I, II and III.¹⁴ 

According to the Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition, type I collagen represents 25% of the total body protein and 80% of connective tissue in humans. The synthesis of type I collagen also plays an important role in osteoblast differentiation, enhancing bone mineral density, bone mineral content, and increasing the amount of type I collagen in the bone matrix.¹² 

A randomized, double-blinded and placebo-controlled study in postmenopausal women found that specific collagen peptides (SCP) significantly increased bone mineral denisty in both lumbar spine by 4.2% and femoral neck by 7.7% over 12 months as opposed to the placebo group where there was no change. In addition, SCP supplementation was associated with a favorable shift in bone markers, indicating increased bone formation and reduced bone degradation.⁷ 

Another year-long study used alternative therapies and had women take either a calcium supplement combined with 5 grams of collagen, or a calcium supplement with no collagen daily. The results showed that women taking the calcium and collagen supplement had significantly lower blood levels of proteins that promote bone breakdown than those only taking the calcium.⁹ The favorable result provided from these and several other studies conducted help to guide patients toward bone loss prevention.

Click here to access our free patient guide — a resource complete with dietitian tips on lifestyle changes to help prevent bone loss!

Osteopenia risk factors

As we age, the body reabsorbs the bone cells faster than they can be rebuilt, which leads to a decrease in bone density.⁶ Post-menopausal women are susceptible to osteoporosis because of its close relation to estrogen deficiency. During the menopausal transition period, the drop of estrogen leads to more bone resorption rather than formation, resulting in osteoporosis.¹¹

Some other important risk factors for both sexes include:

  • Aging
  • Not getting enough exercise
  • Diet lacking calcium and vitamin D
  • Smoking tobacco (which affects how the body absorbs and maintains calcium and can speed up bone loss)
  • Consuming too much caffeine or alcohol
  • Genetics or family history of low BMD
  • Chronic steroid use (prednisone)
  • End-stage kidney disease which leads to renal osteodystrophy (adynamic bone disease)

Osteopenia prevention

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, osteoporosis affects 54 million Americans, mostly women, and millions more Americans are estimated to have osteopenia, putting them at risk for osteoporosis.² 

As we learned, preventing osteopenia from developing into osteoporosis is possible and crucial for bone health. The best way to prevent osteopenia is to eliminate behaviors that lead to osteopenia and begin to incorporate healthier habits, including: 

  • Quitting smoking
  • Eliminating alcohol and caffeine
  • Incorporating weight-bearing exercises
  • Increasing calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, and protein intake

Incorporating weight-bearing exercises such as walking, climbing stairs, and gardening for at least 30 minutes per day is also a great way to strengthen bones. Dietitians also offer a wealth of information to assist patients implement individualized healthy habits and diets that support bone health. 

Vidafuel’s Wellness Protein Drinks can also help support bone health, since each 2oz serving size contains 16 grams of protein and type I and type III collagen; making it a complete and powerful source of protein to benefit bones, muscles, and tendons! 

References

  1. Publishing HH. Osteopenia: When you have weak bones, but not osteoporosis. Harvard Health.
    https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/osteopenia-when-you-have-weak-bones-but-not-osteoporosis

  2. Hirsch MD, Joshua A. Osteoporosis vs. Osteopenia. SpineUniverse.
    https://www.spineuniverse.com/conditions/osteoporosis/osteopenia-osteoporosis-there-difference

  3. Gourlay ML, Al. E, for the Study of Osteoporotic Fractures Research Group, et al. Bone-Density Testing Interval and Transition to Osteoporosis in Older Women: NEJM. New England Journal of Medicine.
    https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1107142#t=article

  4. Publishing HH. Two keys to strong bones: Calcium and Vitamin D. Harvard Health.
    https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/two-keys-to-strong-bones-calcium-and-vitamin-d

  5. Bone density test. Mayo Clinic.
    https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/bone-density-test/about/pac-20385273

  6. Osteopenia: Risk factors, diagnosis, and treatment. Medical News Today.
    https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318321#diagnosis

  7. König D, Oesser S, Scharla S, Zdzieblik D, Gollhofer A. Specific Collagen Peptides Improve Bone Mineral Density and Bone Markers in Postmenopausal Women-A Randomized Controlled Study.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5793325/

  8. Argyrou C, Karlafti E, Lampropoulou-Adamidou K, et al. Effect of calcium and vitamin D supplementation with and without collagen peptides on bone turnover in postmenopausal women with osteopenia. J Musculoskelet Neuronal Interact.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7104583/

  9. Elam ML, Johnson SA, Hooshmand S, et al. A calcium-collagen chelate dietary supplement attenuates bone loss in postmenopausal women with osteopenia: a randomized controlled trial. J Med Food.
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25314004/

  10. Viguet-Carrin S, Garnero P, Delmas PD. The role of collagen in bone strength. Osteoporos Int.
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16341622

  11. Ji MX, Yu Q. Primary osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. Chronic Dis Transl Med.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5643776/

  12. Takeda S, Park JH, Kawashima E, Ezawa I, Omi N. Hydrolyzed collagen intake increases bone mass of growing rats trained with running exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr.
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23914839/

  13. National Osteoporosis website (unknown author).
    https://www.nof.org/preventing-fractures/general-facts/#:~:text=Millions%20of%20Americans%20%E2%80%93%2054%20million,million%20broken%20bones%20every%20year

  14. Lodish H, Berk A, Zipursky SL, et al. Molecular Cell Biology. 4th edition. New York: W. H. Freeman; 2000. Section 22.3, Collagen: The Fibrous Proteins of the Matrix
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK21582/