Reducing the risks

A diagnosis of osteopenia is meant to warn a patient that he or she may be on track to develop osteoporosis, a severe thinning of the bones that increases the risk of a hip, spine or other serious fracture. To reduce the risk of osteoporosis, the National Institutes of Health recommend the following:

Get plenty of calcium: This mineral is essential for bones, and you need at least 1,200 milligrams each day. High-calcium foods include dairy products like cheese, yogurt and milk; fish with soft bones like salmon and sardines; and dark-green leafy vegetables like spinach and collard greens. Some cereals, juices and other processed foods are fortified with calcium. Supplements may be helpful, but be careful not to exceed 2,500 mg of total calcium per day.

Check your vitamin D: This vitamin helps your body absorb calcium, and 800 to 1,000 international units (IUs) per day are recommended. Routine sun exposure produces enough vitamin D for most people, and it's also found in foods like eggs, fatty fish and fortified milk. Supplements may be helpful, but taking too much may cause side effects.

Exercise: Weight-bearing exercises, such as brisk walking, tennis and yoga, help build bones and should be done three or four times each week. Exercises aimed at improving strength and balance also may protect against fractures by helping to prevent falls in the first place.

Limit your vices: Smoking is a risk factor for osteoporosis, and the more you smoke, the greater the risk. Also, chronic heavy drinking can weaken bones by interfering with the body's use of calcium and vitamin D.

Think about medications: The medicines you take may have the side effect of weakening your bones. Common examples include glucocorticoids prescribed for asthma or arthritis, some sleeping pills, some antiseizure drugs and thyroid hormone. On the flip side, bisphosphonate drugs like Fosamax and Boniva may be prescribed to prevent osteoporosis, although they have side effects of their own.

Karen Kaplan

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