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Bone Health: Do Vitamin D Pills Help Blacks?

No Benefits Seen in Study of Postmenopausal Black Women
WebMD Health News

July 25, 2005 -- New research shows no bone benefits for healthy postmenopausal black women who took vitamin D supplements for three years.

The researchers don't dismiss the vitamin pills. They don't know if the results would be similar for women of other ethnic groups, elderly women, or those more severely lacking vitamin D.

The researchers included John Aloia, MD, of the Bone Mineral Research Center at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y. The study appears in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Bone Background

Strong bones are important throughout life. Bone density peaks at about age 30. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, the critical years for building bone mass are from prior to adolescence to about age 30.

Bones naturally thin as we age. The worst cases result in osteoporosis -- thin, brittle bones that are more likely to break. Both men and women can develop osteoporosis or osteopenia, a milder condition that can lead to osteoporosis. Certain people are more likely to develop osteoporosis, and vitamin D deficiency makes it more likely.

Getting Vitamin D

Vitamin D is involved in bone health, along with calcium and other minerals. The body can make vitamin D when exposed to sunshine. It can also get vitamin D from supplements or certain foods, such as low-fat dairy products.

In old age, black women tend to get fewer bone fractures than whites.

It's harder for blacks to make vitamin D. Their skin color provides some natural sun protection, filtering out some sunshine needed to produce vitamin D.

Keeping Bones Strong

Factors that raise the odds of osteoporosis include:

  • A family history of osteoporosis
  • Personal history of fracture after age 50
  • Current Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Getting little or no weight-bearing exercise
  • Being small-framed or thin
  • A diet low in bone-friendly foods -- low lifetime calcium intake
  • Certain medications -- such as steroids and seizure medications

Steps to keep bones strong include:

  • Quit smoking
  • Eat a healthy diet; consume adequate calcium
  • Get regular, weight-bearing exercise (such as walking, jogging, stair climbing, weight lifting, or dancing)
  • Avoid heavy drinking

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