Alternative Treatment Therapies for Osteopenia

Ways to Promote Bone Health Naturally

Osteopenia is a condition marked by low bone mass. Although people with osteopenia have less dense bones (lower mineral content) than typical, the condition is not as severe as osteoporosis (a progressive bone-thinning disease). However, people with osteopenia are at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis if their condition is left untreated.

An estimated 43.3 million people over 50 in the U.S. have osteopenia.

This article explains the risk factors for developing osteopenia, alternative therapies, and ways to maintain bone health.

A teenager walking with her grandmother
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Risk Factors

Your risk for osteopenia and osteoporosis is likely to increase as you get older. That's because aging-related processes deplete minerals and mass from your bones.

In addition, people who experience menopause are more prone to osteopenia and osteoporosis. In fact, 52% of women over 50 have osteopenia. That's due to their naturally lower bone mineral density and certain bone-affecting hormonal changes that occur during menopause.

Other factors that may raise your risk for osteopenia include:

Alternative Therapies

Several complementary and alternative therapies have been studied for their effects on bone health.

Tai Chi

In a 2007 study, researchers examined the effects of tai chi (an ancient Chinese martial art that combines slow, graceful movements with meditation and deep breathing) on 49 older men with osteoporosis and osteopenia.

Researchers assigned participants to an exercise intervention or control group. After 18 weeks of training in tai chi, the exercise group had improved balance and reduced falling risk.

A systematic review published the same year concluded that tai chi may be an effective, safe, and practical intervention for maintaining bone mineral density in postmenopausal people. However, the review's authors note that existing studies on Tai chi's bone-protecting effects are limited in quantity and quality.

More recently, a 2017 study published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society evaluated tai chi as a preventative measure against fall risk. The meta-analysis included 10 randomized controlled trials and found that tai chi reduced the risk of falls in the short term (less than 12 months) in at-risk and older adults by 43% and 50%, respectively.

Green Tea

In a 2009 report in Nutrition Research, researchers concluded that green tea might help prevent bone loss in older adults.

Specifically, it may decrease fracture risk by improving bone mineral density, stimulating activity in bone-forming cells, and inhibiting activity in bone-weakening cells.

Another study published in 2012 examined the effectiveness of combining green tea polyphenols (GTP), an extract of green tea, and tai chi exercise on bone health. The six-month randomized and placebo-controlled clinical trial involved 171 post-menopausal people with osteopenia. Participants were either prescribed placebo and GTP, placebo and tai chi, or GTP and tai chi.

Researchers found a significant reduction in oxidative damage in all groups—40% in the tai chi group, 60% in the GTP group, and 73% in the combination group.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential for helping the body absorb calcium, a mineral key to forming and maintaining bone.

A 2019 study published in Biomolecular Concepts evaluated the effect of vitamin D on people with osteoporosis and osteopenia. The clinical trial included 400 adults, 13% of whom had osteoporosis, 14% had osteopenia, and 73% had normal bone density. Of those with osteoporosis, 45% had vitamin D deficiency, while 29% of those with osteopenia and 26% of those with normal bone density were deficient.

Participants with vitamin D deficiency received treatment for eight weeks with vitamin D supplements. Researchers found that treatment with vitamin D improved bone density indices and reduced the incidence of osteoporosis.

Exposure to the sun's UVB rays helps the body synthesize vitamin D. However, since UV exposure increases your risk of skin cancer, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends obtaining vitamin D from foods and supplements.

Lifestyle Strategies for Bone Health

These strategies can also help preserve bone health:

  • Getting enough calcium (between 1,000 to 1,300 mg per day)
  • Getting adequate vitamin D (600 IU)
  • Getting regular exercise, including weight-bearing exercise
  • Limiting caffeine and alcohol
  • Avoiding smoking

It's also essential to talk to a healthcare provider about your bone health. They may recommend additional strategies or supplements that are right for your situation.

Summary

Osteopenia is low bone mass. It is less severe than osteoporosis, but you are more likely to develop osteoporosis if you have osteopenia. Older people, especially those who have gone through menopause, are at the most significant risk of developing osteopenia.

Limited research suggests that alternative therapies, like tai chi, green tea, and vitamin D may support bone health. In addition, lifestyle factors like eating a nutritious diet, limiting alcohol and caffeine, and avoiding smoking may help.

A Word From Verywell

Due to the limited research, it's too soon to recommend alternative medicine for osteopenia. It's also important to note that self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

If you're considering using alternative medicine for osteopenia (or any other disorder), consult a healthcare provider first.

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11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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