Reversing Osteopenia Without Drugs

Wake-up Call

In my early fifties, during the routine annual physical (usually the only time I visit a doctor) I dutifully went through the list of annual tests my doctor prescribed - blood and urine analyses, mammogram and, a new one, a DXA scan (bone density test).

The result of the DXA scan was a rude jolt - it showed early signs of osteopenia (the precursor to osteoporosis).  What!  Me?  I was healthy with good posture, exercised moderately and ate healthy vegetarian (almost vegan) meals.  My doctor advised me to start having meds to increase bone density.  

A cursory google search made me instantly wary of doing so - these drugs build up dead bone tissue and make you more prone to fractures!  After a discussion, my doctor told me I can delay for a year but if the next scan showed a further deterioration she would be more insistent.

So I started to research all about osteopenia and osteoporosis.  

Statistically Suspect?

First, were the numbers dire for me?  This NIH article appeared to say that while I may have osteopenia when compared to the US population, it may not be the case when compared to the Indian subcontinent, especially those from southern India (like me).  But that I set aside for later research because, in either case, I needed to strengthen my bones as I wasn’t getting any younger and fractures are {better REF?} the leading cause of deterioration of quality of life in the elderly.

Second, what if I took those numbers to be valid?  Are drugs my only option?  There were numerous articles on the importance of weight-bearing exercise for improving bone strength - so I started walking while continuing my research (that one year clock was ticking!).

Yoga to the Rescue

Then I stumbled onto some life-changing information from reading a Times article (12 Minutes of Yoga for Stronger Bones) on the subject.  Painstaking research by Dr. Loren Fishman and his team over a decade (obviously not funded by any drug company since it is drug-free!) clearly established increases in bone density from following their simple yoga routine.

And the best part?  Unlike the bone-loss drugs’ vicious side-effects, Dr. Fishman points out that yoga’s “side effects...include better posture, improved balance, enhanced coordination, greater range of motion, higher strength, reduced levels of anxiety and better gait.”

I know it is just one data point and not statistically significant.  But, in my case it worked!  The first scan I had (I had only started doing 3-5 minutes of yoga for a few months) showed no significant deterioration - that bought me a couple more years of “let’s wait and watch” from my doctor.  But after the next 3 scans, I never heard about those nasty drugs again.  Why, you may ask?  Well, as an example, my Lumbar Spine BMD(T-score) went from 0.859(-1.7) to 0.867(-1.6) to 0.873(-1.6) to 0.898(-1.4) over 5 years!!  The last one was called out by the radiologist as “statistically significant”!!!  The Hip and Femoral Neck scores were not as impressive but showed stability.

I would strongly recommend that all women past fifty invest in this book and read it carefully before starting bone-loss drugs - so much cheaper health-wise and money-wise.  The earlier chapters that discuss how yoga poses impact osteocytes and osteoblasts are difficult to wade through but gripping once you understand the concept.  Another bonus - it shows how to do each pose in detail for 2 stages - osteoporosis, osteopenia and for prevention.  Even if all you do is stabilize osteopenia, you are generating healthy bone that will be less prone to fractures.  And, don’t forget the great “side-effects”.