African American Women Don’t Need A Break, We Need Strong Bones

Facing particular disadvantages, here are a few things African American women can do to avoid osteoporosis.
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A special message during National Women’s Health Week (May 14–20)

Osteoporosis, a disease that reduces bone mass, does not just affect white women as many believe. It strikes as many as one in every two post-menopausal women in the United States. Healthy bones are crucial to our overall health. They provide a framework for balance and fall prevention and store minerals our bodies need.

Osteoporosis results in 1.5 million bone fractures each year in the U.S. African American women are more likely to die from the consequences of these fractures.

These bone breaks can also cause a loss of mobility and independence, not to mention chronic pain. They also contribute to further bone loss and other health problems.

African American women actually have denser bones than white or Asian women and are less likely at face value to have osteoporosis. However, up to 75 percent of African Americans are lactose intolerant. This leads many to avoid milk products — a primary source of calcium.

In fact, African American women consume 50 percent less calcium than the recommended daily dietary allowance. Calcium serves a crucial role in building bone mass and preventing bone loss.

The risk for osteoporosis in African American women is also increased due to diseases prevalent in our race, such as sickle cell anemia and lupus, which can lower the uptake of calcium. Doctors may prescribe dietary supplements and lactose-free dairy products to help preserve healthy bones. In some cases, hormones may also be prescribed.

We can also help ourselves battle osteoporosis by maintaining good lifestyle habits. Eat well, including foods high in vitamin D and calcium. Exercise regularly, including weight-bearing activity). Stop smoking, and if you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.

What else can we do? Get your DEXA scan!

The United Services Preventive Services Task Force recommends that women ages 65 and older get a bone density scan known as DEXA (Dual-Energy X-ray absorptiometry). Younger women with additional risk factors for bone loss may need this test as well.

DEXA scans use a small amount of radiation focused on the hip and spine to measure bone density and mineral content. The measurement is then used to put each woman into a risk category for likelihood of a fracture. This test is painless. It involves no needles, is generally widely available and takes only minutes to complete (in some cases without removal of clothing). Remember to talk to your doctor about this bone density scan at your next checkup.

During National Women’s Health Week (May 14–20), let’s remember to take care of ourselves by getting checked for bone density, eating smart, making time for exercise — and by scheduling our yearly checkup.

Let’s take our health to the next level and put osteoporosis screening and prevention near the top of our health list along with preventive screening for colon and breast cancer.

Osteoporosis is one break we don’t need.

For more information on DEXA scans or other medical imaging exams, visit