While African American women tend to have higher bone mineral
density (BMD) than white women throughout life, they are still at significant
risk of developing osteoporosis. The misperception that osteoporosis is only a
concern for white women can delay prevention and treatment in African American
women who do not believe they are at risk for the disease.
What Is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a metabolic bone disease characterized by low bone
mass, which makes bones fragile and susceptible to fracture. Osteoporosis is
known as a silent disease because symptoms and pain do not appear until a
fracture occurs. Without prevention or treatment, osteoporosis can progress
painlessly until a bone breaks, typically in the hip, spine, or wrist. A hip
fracture can limit mobility and lead to a loss of independence, while vertebral
fractures can result in a loss of height, stooped posture, and chronic pain.
What Are the Risk Factors for Osteoporosis?
Risk factors for developing osteoporosis include:
- a thin, small-boned frame
- previous fracture or family history of osteoporotic fracture
- estrogen deficiency resulting from early menopause (before age 45), either
naturally, from surgical removal of the ovaries, or as a result of prolonged
amenorrhea (abnormal absence of menstruation) in younger women
- advanced age
- a diet low in calcium
- Caucasian and Asian ancestry (African American and Hispanic women are at
lower but significant risk)
- cigarette smoking
- excessive use of alcohol
- prolonged use of certain medications, such as those used to treat diseases
like lupus, asthma, thyroid deficiencies, and seizures.
Are There Special Issues for African American Women
Regarding Bone Health?
Many scientific studies highlight the risk that African American
women face with regard to developing osteoporosis and fracture.
- Osteoporosis is underrecognized and undertreated in African American women.
- As African American women age, their risk for hip fracture doubles
approximately every 7 years.
- African American women are more likely than white women to die following a
- Diseases more prevalent in the African American population, such as
sickle-cell anemia and lupus, can increase the risk of developing osteoporosis.
- African American women consume 50 percent less calcium than the Recommended
Dietary Allowance. Adequate intake of calcium plays a crucial role in building
bone mass and preventing bone loss.
- As many as 75 percent of all African Americans are lactose intolerant.
Lactose intolerance can hinder optimal calcium intake. People with lactose
intolerance often may avoid milk and other dairy products that are excellent
sources of calcium because they have trouble digesting lactose, the primary
sugar in milk.
How Can Osteoporosis Be Prevented?
Osteoporosis prevention begins in childhood. The recommendations
listed below should be followed throughout life to lower your risk of