Osteopenia among Yemeni Women [Archives:2008/1218/Health]

December 22 2008

Ola Al-Shami
Continuous backaches, weak bones that are easily broken and general decay are widespread complaints made by women in Yemen. In a developing nation where health awareness is restricted to a privileged few many are not conscious that these symptoms have serious consequences. Statistics indicate that osteopenia is more prevalent among women in Yemen than it is among men.

Osteopenia is a condition where bone mineral density (BMD) is lower than normal but not low enough to be classified as osteoporosis. Although it is considered by many doctors to be a precursor to osteoporosis, not every person diagnosed with osteopenia will develop osteoporosis.

Bone mineral density is a measurement of the level of minerals in the bones, which indicates how dense and strong they are.

What Causes Osteopenia

Like osteoporosis, osteopenia occurs more frequently in post-menopausal women as a result of the loss of estrogen. It can also be exacerbated by lifestyle factors such as lack of exercise, excessive consumption of alcohol, smoking, or prolonged use of certain types of medication.

Bones naturally become thinner as people grow older because, beginning in middle age, existing bone cells are reabsorbed by the body faster than new bone is made. As this occurs, the bones lose minerals, mass, and structure, making them weaker and increasing their risk of breaking. All people begin losing bone mass after they reach peak BMD at about 30 years of age. The thicker your bones are around that time, the longer it takes to develop osteopenia or osteoporosis.

Importance of Diet

Diet is very important for bone development. Calcium is the most critical mineral for generating bone mass. Your best sources of calcium are milk and other dairy products, green vegetables, and calcium-enriched products.

Calcium combined with vitamin D is vital. Vitamin D assists your body in absorbing calcium and other minerals.

It is found in milk, eggs, salmon, sardines, swordfish, and some fish oils, and can also be taken in calcium and vitamin supplements. In addition to what you take in from food, your body produces vitamin D in response to sunlight.

Reducing Risks

Osteopenia is treated by taking preventative steps to keep it from developing into osteoporosis and, for a few people, by taking medication. Lifestyle changes can help reduce the bone loss that leads to osteopenia and osteoporosis.

Exercise is important in maintaining strong bones, because bone forms in response to stress. Weight-bearing exercises such as walking, hiking, and dancing are all good choices.

In addition to diet and exercise, quitting smoking and avoiding excessive use of alcohol, soft drinks, and caffeine will also reduce your risk of bone loss.


There are medications and hormone replacement methods available to treat bone thinning, but these are typically only applied if your symptoms have progressed past osteopenia to the more serious condition of osteoporosis.

Osteopenia in Yemen

The lack of a balanced and vitamin-rich diet, coupled with a lack of adequate regular exercise, represent the two primary factors that speed the development of osteopenia among women.

“Osteopenia affects one in every three women in Yemen. This is because the majority of Yemeni women do not exercise regularly