3 Surprising Facts You Can Learn from a DEXA Scan

Shannon Miller

June 13, 2024

Advancements in technology have transformed the way we examine the body, from regular check-ups to advanced diagnostics. Understanding the body at a deeper level can be a transformative first step towards improving health – and technology has paved the way for this understanding. In particular, body composition analysis technology including the Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) scan offers unparalleled insight into the intricate makeup of the body. Beyond the standard metrics of weight and body mass, a DEXA scan can reveal even more specificities of body composition, offering not only a deep, comprehensive overview of the body’s current physical condition and how it changes over time, but also important health markers.

A DEXA scan is a medical imaging device that measures the proportion of fat mass, muscle mass, bone density and other health information in the body. It works by using two low-dose X-ray beams at different energy levels to create images of body tissues. The technology relies on the differential absorption of these X-ray beams by various tissues. The scan itself uses minimal radiation – significantly less than a standard X-ray – making it a safe option for repeated use. The machine’s dual energy beam levels allow for accurate differentiation between bone, fat, and lean tissue which helps to determine the density and composition of the tissues. DEXA scans therefore accurately quantify lean muscle mass and fat mass, and how these tissues are distributed throughout various parts of the body. Regular DEXA scans can serve as a benchmark to track changes in body composition over time. Ongoing assessments can help fine-tune nutrition and fitness plans based on muscle and fat tissue response.

In the fitness world, DEXA scans are largely used to measure and track lean muscle mass and fat mass changes in the body to inform action steps towards a goal. However, DEXA technology reveals a few other very significant health markers, making it an even more valuable tool for overall heath.

Bone Density

One of the primary uses of a DEXA scan is to measure bone mineral density. This is crucial for assessing the risk of osteoporosis and other conditions that affect bone strength. Understanding your bone mineral density can help identify early signs of bone loss, evaluate the effectiveness of an osteoporosis treatment, and even inform the need for nutritional and exercise changes in order to improve bone health. During a DEXA scan, the X-ray beams pass through the bones and are absorbed by the bone and soft tissue to varying degrees. Denser bones will absorb more X-rays, while less dense bones will absorb fewer. Detectors on the opposite side of the X-ray source measure the amount of X-rays that pass through the bones. The difference in absorption between the two energy levels is used to calculate the bone density. A bone mineral density “score” is provided which is derived from a comparison of an individual’s bone density to the average peak bone density as expected in someone of the same age, sex, weight, and ethnic or racial origin. This score informs the need for bone health lifestyle interventions or possible medical attention.

Visceral Fat

While fat proportion measurements from DEXA scans are typically associated with subcutaneous fat (or the fat that is under first few layers of the skin) it also provides an important measurement of visceral fat percentage. Visceral fat is the fat that is stored around the internal organs in the abdominal region of the body. This type of fat is particularly important, as a high percentage it is associated with higher health risks compared to subcutaneous fat. A DEXA scan can accurately measure visceral fat percentage, which can help assess the risk for metabolic conditions and inform lifestyle changes to reduce visceral fat and improve overall health. The scan identifies and isolates specific regions of interest where visceral fat is typically located, primarily in the abdominal area. It then calculates the amount of visceral fat found within the abdominal region by analyzing the pixel intensity and composition differences in scan images, providing a quantitative measurement of visceral fat expressed in grams or as a percentage of total body fat. This measurement can help assess potential health risks such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.

Body Symmetry

Data from a DEXA scan is both comprehensive and specific. A scan can analyze fat and lean mass across the entire body and show how fat and muscle are distributed among different regions of the body. For instance, scan results can reveal how much lean muscle mass is distributed among the left leg compared to the right leg. A data point like this allows for important insights into the body’s symmetry and alignment. Information on body symmetry, especially lean muscle mass distribution, can be particularly useful for athletes aiming to balance muscle development in certain areas, identifying potential areas of weakness or imbalance that could lead to injury, or tailoring rehabilitation exercises after an injury.

A DEXA body composition scan is more than just a tool to understand muscle and fat proportion. It is a comprehensive analysis of your body’s health with an array of different types of data points. By offering precise measurements of bone density, fat mass, muscle distribution, and more, it can empower its users with knowledge needed to make informed decisions about nutrition, fitness and other lifestyle factors. Whether you are an athlete striving for peak performance, an individual focused on weight management, or someone looking to maintain bone and muscle health as you age, a DEXA scan can help bring clarity and direction you need to achieve your goals.

Curious how adding in DEXA scans to your routine can help propel you to a new level of health and performance? Schedule a scan with our experts today!

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