Osteoporosis is a metabolic bone disease characterized by low bone mineral density (BMD) which makes bones fragile and susceptible to fracture. Many African American women believe that osteoporosis is only a concern for white women. This misperception can be a barrier to prevention and treatment.
It’s true that African American women tend to have higher bone mineral density (BMD) than white women throughout life, however, there are specific issues that African American women face when it comes to developing osteoporosis that are less well known. These issues include the following:
- Under recognized and undertreated. The NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center acknowledges that “Although 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.”
- Hip fractures. As African American women age, their risk for hip fracture doubles approximately every 7 years.
- Sickle cell anemia and lupus. Diseases more prevalent in the African American population, such as sickle cell anemia and lupus, are linked to an increase risk of developing osteoporosis.
- Insufficient calcium and vitamin D intake. African American women consume 50 percent less calcium than the Recommended Dietary Allowance. Adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D throughout life, as part of a healthy dietary pattern, may reduce the risk of osteoporosis, by helping build and maintain good bone health. Vitamin D can be made in the skin when exposed to sunlight. However, skin pigmentation is one of several factors that can determine how much sun exposure you need. African Americans have dark pigment, which lessens the body’s ability to produce vitamin D in the skin. Obesity—which is high among African American women, may also play a role in keeping vitamin D levels low. That’s because obesity reduces the body’s ability to use vitamin D.
- Lactose intolerance. As many as 75 percent of all African Americans may experience lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance can hinder optimal calcium intake. People with lactose intolerance may avoid milk and other dairy products even though most are excellent sources of calcium because they have trouble digesting lactose, the primary sugar in milk.