The bodies of black teen girls tend to retain calcium better than those of white teen girls, which could explain why blacks have higher levels of peak bone mass and a lower risk of fracture later in life, say researchers.
Previous research has shown that African Americans are less likely to develop the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis than whites, and also have a lower risk of fractures.
The current report suggests that white women may have to pay extra attention to how much calcium they take in during adolescence, but blacks are not completely off the hook.
Black women do get osteoporosis, and these women can benefit by making sure that calcium intakes are adequate during growth. People accumulate most of their bone mass during their teen years, achieving a so-called peak value at approximately 18.
In the case of women, bone mass stays relatively stable until menopause, when it can drop rapidly. After menopause, bone mass in women tends to continue a slow decline through old age, putting them at increased risk of fractures. As such, the more bone the body adds during periods of bone growth, the less likely the bone is to thin to the point of fracture during old age.
Calcium plays an essential role in bone growth. In order to determine whether factors associated with calcium metabolism could explain racial differences in bone health, the scientists measured how well the bodies of 14 black teen girls absorbed calcium from food. Over the course of three weeks, the girls were fed a controlled diet with fixed amounts of calcium and submitted all urine and feces, to determine how much calcium they retained in their bodies. The research team then compared these findings to results obtained from white teens during a previous, similar experiment.
They found that the bodies of black teens showed significant differences in how they metabolized calcium, relative to whites. For instance, black teens tended to absorb more calcium and lose less calcium in their urine than whites, a result of more calcium being taken up by bone. The black teens included in the current study also had higher bone density than the previous sample of white teens.
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