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Asian-American Women and Their Risk of Osteoporosis

Many risk factors also apply to Caucasian women

Adapted from National Institutes of Health | May 9, 2012

Based on content from the NIH publication, “Osteoporosis and Asian American Women.”

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 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 many 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); parathyroid hormone; estrogen therapy; hormone therapy; and a recently approved RANK ligand (RANKL) inhibitor.

Resources

For more information on osteoporosis, visit the National Institutes of Health Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases ~ National Resource Center Web site.

For more information on minority health, visit the Office of Minority Health Resource Center Web site.