Q: I've heard a lot about osteopenia lately. What is it and what can I do to prevent it?
-Emily C., Richmond, Va.
A: Osteopenia literally means "lack of bone," a condition that can happen to all of us as we age. The good news is that there are simple, effective strategies to minimize bone loss. And the younger you start, the better. Specifically, it's important to get regular weight-bearing exercise (such as walking) and to maintain a good intake of bone-supporting vitamins, such as D3 and K, and minerals, such as calcium and magnesium.
Unfortunately, all of that advertising for calcium and milk moustaches is just a little misleading. In fact, the nations that consume the highest amount of dairy products per capita have the highest rates of osteopenia and osteoporosis. How can that be? Well, milk contains a lot of calcium relative to the other bone minerals. And that's a problem. Because it's the combination of minerals that prevents bone loss. Overloading on one at the expense of the others isn't a good idea.
Tests called DEXA scans are conventionally used to calculate bone density. And DEXA results are often used to push bisphosphonates, a class of drugs including Fosamax. These drugs improve DEXA scores-but don't actually create stronger bones-by inhibiting new bone formation. How can that be?
A healthy bone alternately repels and attracts minerals such as calcium, magnesium, boron, and silica. Bisphosphonates prevent this type of flow, so the minerals accrete on the bone and the feedback to the brain is, "Hey, I guess I don't need to make new bone." This is why there have been reports of increased bone brittleness in patients who take these drugs.
Finally, you can't talk about bone loss without examining acidic sodas. Almost all of the minerals needed for strong bones are alkali. Alkali substances are attracted to acidic substances, and they neutralize each other. Sodas are full of acidic fluid that your body neutralizes with alkalinizing minerals that typically come right off the bone. That's why it's a good idea to limit your intake of sodas. That goes doubly for kids, because they're growing the bones they'll be counting on for the rest of their lives. It's especially horrible to witness teenage girls, before their final growth spurt, guzzling bone-destroying cans of pop. Do your bones a favor and make water the beverage of choice.