Osteoporosis and Asian American Women

January 2012

Asian American women are at high risk for developing osteoporosis (porous bones), a disease that is preventable and treatable. Studies show that Asian Americans share many of the risk factors that apply to Caucasian women. As an Asian American woman, it is important that you understand what osteoporosis is and what steps you can take to prevent or treat it.

What Is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones become less dense and more likely to fracture. If not prevented or if left untreated, bone loss 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, and vertebral fractures can result in a loss of height, stooped posture, and chronic pain.

What Are the Risk Factors for Osteoporosis?

Several risk factors increase your chances of developing osteoporosis, including:

  • 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.

Are There Any Special Issues for Asian Women Regarding Bone Health?

Recent studies indicate a number of facts that highlight the risk that Asian American women face with regard to developing osteoporosis:

  • Compared with Caucasian women, Asian women have been found to consume less calcium. One reason for this may be that up to 90 percent of Asian Americans are lactose intolerant. Therefore, they may avoid dairy products, the primary source of calcium in the diet. Calcium is essential for building and maintaining a healthy skeleton.
  • Asian women generally have lower hip fracture rates than Caucasian women, although the prevalence of vertebral fractures among Asians seems to be as high as that in Caucasians.
  • Slender women have less bone mass than heavy or obese women and, therefore, are at greater risk for osteoporotic bone fractures.

How Can Osteoporosis Be Prevented?

Building strong bones, especially before the age of 20, can be the best defense against developing osteoporosis. A healthy lifestyle can be critically important for keeping bones strong. To help prevent osteoporosis:

  • Eat a well-balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D.
  • Exercise regularly, with an emphasis on weight-bearing activities such as walking, jogging, dancing, and weight training.
  • Don’t smoke, and limit alcohol intake.

Talk to your doctor if you have a family history of osteoporosis or other factors that may put you at increased risk for the disease. Your doctor may suggest that you have your bone density measured through a safe test that can determine your risk for fractures (broken bones) and measure your response to osteoporosis treatment. The most widely recognized bone mineral density test (BMD) is called a dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry, or DXA test. The BMD test is painless, a bit like having an x-ray, but with much less exposure to radiation. It can measure bone density at your hip and spine.

What Treatments Are Available?

Although there is no cure for osteoporosis, several medications are available for the prevention and/or treatment of osteoporosis, including: bisphosphonates; estrogen agonists/antagonists (also called selective estrogen receptor modulators or SERMS); calcitonin; parathyroid hormone; estrogen therapy; hormone therapy; and a recently approved RANK ligand (RANKL) inhibitor.

Resources

NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases ~ National Resource Center

Website: http://www.bones.nih.gov

For more information on minority health, visit:

Office of Minority Health Resource Center

Website: http://www.minorityhealth.hhs.gov

For Your Information

This publication contains information about medications used to treat the health condition discussed here. When this publication was produced, we included the most up-to-date (accurate) information available. Occasionally, new information on medication is released.

For updates and for any questions about any medications you are taking, please contact:

U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Website: http://www.fda.gov
Toll free: 888–INFO–FDA (888–463–6332)

For updates and questions about statistics, please contact:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics

Website: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs
Toll free: 800–232–4636

NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases ~ National Resource Center

2 AMS Circle
Bethesda,  MD 20892-0001
Phone: 202-223-0344
Toll Free: 800-624-BONE (2663)
TTY: 202-466-4315
Fax: 202-293-2356
Email: NIHBoneInfo@mail.nih.gov
Website: http://www.bones.nih.gov

The NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases ~ National Resource Center provides patients, health professionals, and the public with an important link to resources and information on metabolic bone diseases. The mission of NIH ORBD~NRC is to expand awareness and enhance knowledge and understanding of the prevention, early detection, and treatment of these diseases as well as strategies for coping with them.

The NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases ~ National Resource Center is supported by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases with contributions from:

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

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