Osteopenia is reduced bone mass of lesser severity than Osteoporosis. “osteo” means bone and “penia” indicates a state of being low in quantity.  There is some controversy if osteopenia is truly a disease.  It merely indicates a state of relatively low bone mass.

Although, someone with osteopenia is more likely to fracture a bone than someone with normal bone density, they are less likely to fracture a bone than someone with osteoporosis.  Wrists or vertebral fractures are the most common in Osteopenia and can be painful.  That said, some fractures, especially vertebral fractures, may be painless and Osteopenia can go undiagnosed for years.  The areas of least use in the body, which are more porous and thinner, are at greater risk of fracture, thus, leading to enhanced bone fragility, causing significant decrease in bones ability to bear weight.  Calcium and other mineral deficiency signs coincide with osteopenia, leading to other diseases such as, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis.

From a Chinese medicine perspective, osteopenia is seen to be a Kidney Essence (Jing) deficiency.

People who are most at risk:

  • People living in cities, working indoors during day light hours, with lack of sunlight exposure to skin
  • A sedentary lifestyle and lack of mobility
  • People who eat a high animal product diet (higher acidity)
  • Smokers
  • Menopausal women of Caucasian and (Asian) decent
  • Women over the age of 35
  • Women athletes (or those who excessively exercise and limit nutrient intake through food, in eating disorders such as, anorexia nervosa or bulimia
  • Low or high protein intake
  • Elderly populations
  • Long term use of PPI’s
  • Excessive use of alcohol, corticosteroids, anti-coagulants and diuretics
  • Excessive caffeine intake
  • Genetic predisposition & kidney essence deficiency
  • Excessive salt intake
  • Vitamin D or Magnesium deficiency
  • Long term use of oral contraceptives
  • History of amenorrhea

Estrogen deficiency

  • Testosterone deficiency
  • History of bone fractures
  • High blood pressure
  • Certain hormone-related cancers and cancer therapies

General Nutritional Recommendations:

There is no cure for osteopenia, yet a whole food diet rich in calcium and other nutrients that assist in calcium absorption can maintain healthy bone mass and slow the degeneration of osteoblasts.

What to include:

  • Foods rich in calcium, magnesium, chlorophyll and mineral rich foods such as: grains, legumes, leafy greens (including cereal grasses and/or micro algae); seaweeds.  The following foods are high in these nutrients: kelp, wakame, hijiki, kombu, seaweeds, wheat grass, sardines, tofu, collard greens, spinach, kale, mustard greens, almonds, sunflower seeds, fortified milk alternatives and foods
  • Fermented dairy products digest more easily. Yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese, buttermilk, extra old cheeses are good calcium sources.  Yet contrary to popular belief dairy products are not the highest calcium food sources
  • Soaking nuts and legumes helps to neutralize the phytic acid found in calcium rich foods to increase bioavailability and increase nutrient absorption
  • Adequate water intake, recommended at 3 Lt daily for women and 3.8 Lt daily for men is suggested.  Mineral water has higher mineral and calcium levels

What to avoid:

  • Calcium inhibiting foods.  Such as: soft drinks, diuretics, excessive protein, refined sugar or too much of any concentrated sugar or sweet flavoured food
  • Excessive salt
  • Smoking
  • Processed foods and condiments containing excess salt
  • Foods rich in oxalic acid, phytic acid and tannins (therefore avoiding excessive coffee and chocolate intake, especially with meals)
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Meats from feed lots containing large amounts of antibiotics and arachidonic acid, the precursor to inflammatory prostaglandin PGE 2, which can upset the hormonal system.

Lifestyle Recommendations:

  • Exercise: weight-bearing exercises such as walking, yoga, jogging, tennis, strength training can increase and maintain bone mass.  When we exercise our muscles contract and pull on our bones, stressing the bone tissue in a way that stimulates and increases bone density.
  • Getting adequate Vitamin D and from sunshine, recommended 20% skin exposure for thirty minutes daily at sea level. If work prevents this on days off spending several hours outdoors in day light.  Full spectrum light is helpful.

Specific Vitamins or Mineral Supplements:

  • Calcium supplementation may be necessary, if one’s diet is inadequate.  The RDA for Calcium is 1000mg daily.  It is suggested that a lower dose is taken as a supplement to prevent calcium excess.  This can cause increased risk of cardiovascular disease and myocardial infarction in women, as well as kidney stones in those prone to this pathology, especially if combined with high oxalic acid intake.  Calcium is proven to increase bone density and prevent against osteopenia.  Bioavailability and absorption must be considered.
  • Vit. D sublingual is often suggested, yet it is not known the amount that is absorbed through the digestive tract.
  • Magnesium is suggested if there is inadequate intake though food.  A supplement of magnesium is used to assist in calcium absorption.

Traditional Food Recipes and Medicine:

Mineral rich formula:

1 part horsetail

1 part oatstraw

1 part kombu seaweed or kelp powder

1/3 part lobelia

Simmer in water for 25 min

  • Alfalfa is a highly mineralized herb that is known and a time-honoured remedy for bone disorders.
  • Traditional European Soup recipe called “green and grain” made of barely sprouts and kale.
  • Traditional Chinese recipe of seaweed and beans to nourish the water element and kidneys.
  • Bone Broth can be made using organically and ethically raised animals, anchovies, sardines or fish for deficiency patterns resulting in bone loss.

See the book: Healing with Whole Foods for greater detail on recipes and prescriptions.

To your strong and healthy bones!