While many have heard about osteoporosis, only a few of us are aware about the condition osteopenia. According to the latest figures released by the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 43 million Americans over 50 years of age suffer from osteopenia.

Osteopenia is a condition in which the bone mass is lower than normal, but not low enough to be classified as osteoporosis. The denser your bones, the healthier they are. According to the National Institute of Health, bone thinning is a natural part of aging, which naturally kicks in after the age of 30. In women this process accelerates after menopause, when levels of the hormone estrogen, which protects bones, drop sharply.

How Osteopenia Differs From Osteoporosis
Osteopenia and osteoporosis are both conditions in which the bone mineral density is lower than normal. But what matters is the degree of the bone loss–osteopenia is a milder form, but it could be a sign of things to come. In short, one can define osteopenia as a precursor to osteoporosis.

Osteopenia came into light in 2010, when Gwyneth Paltrow revealed that she was suffering from the condition. The diagnosis took Paltrow by shock as the ‘ever so health conscious’ actress, who was famous for her macrobiotic diet, did not want to be called an old lady with brittle bones.

People who have osteopenia do not experience any symptoms until the bone loss is at an advanced stage. Though there is no pain or change as your bone density decreases, the risk of a bone fracture increases considerably.

That’s what happened with Paltrow. Doctors diagnosed the problem after she suffered from a leg fracture.  Doctors also found that she suffered from extremely low levels of vitamin D, apparently the lowest they had ever seen. Vitamin D is necessary for the absorption of calcium in the body, which is required to build and maintain strong bones.

Natural Ways To Handle It
It would be wrong to tag osteopenia as a disease in itself—rather, it is an evident marker for an increased risk of osteoporosis which can be prevented with proper management and care. While the name can scare you initially, osteopenia is treatable and there are many natural ways in which you can look after your bones. Here’s how you can make them healthy:

1. Diet
Eating disorders are a major cause of osteopenia. A healthy diet, rich in calcium, protein and complex carbohydrates, can go a long way in preventing bone loss. If you’re not getting enough calcium from your diet, talk to your doctor about a calcium supplement. Leave out excess salt, caffeine, alcohol and aerated drinks, as these foods are known to weaken bones. Here are six superfoods to keep your bones healthy and prevent osteoporosis.

2.Vitamin D
Even if you are loading up on calcium-rich foods, it won’t make any difference until you have vitamin D to initiate its absorption. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends about 600 IUD/day of vitamin D on a daily basis for healthy adults. The easiest way to load up on your vitamin D levels is getting adequate sun exposure.

“Although irresponsible sunbathing is unquestionably harmful and precautions need to be taken, regular, moderate, unprotected sun exposure is essential for good health. It is free, easy to get and good, and is the only reliable way to generate Vitamin D in your own body’, writes Gwyneth on her website GOOP. (Related Article: 4 Reasons To Optimize Your Vitamin D Levels (& How You Can Do It))

3. Physical Activity
Like muscles, your bones become stronger when you exercise. Experts recommend a daily 30-minute physical activity to keep your bones in prime condition. The best exercises for bones are weight-bearing exercises such as walking, dancing, cycling and hiking.

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