Updated 14 July 2014

Osteoporosis increase in African women

The latest focus of osteoporosis awareness is to educate African women on the importance of a healthy diet in order to prevent the disease.

A widely held belief is that African women tend to have a higher bone mineral density (BMD) than females of other cultures and backgrounds.

This unconfirmed statistic is rapidly changing, however, as figure conscious females keep an increasingly watchful eye on their weight, impacting negatively on the density of their bones and increasing their risk of contracting bone diseases.

“Known as the silent epidemic because it exhibits no symptoms, osteoporosis is a disease that affects the strength of bones making them more susceptible to breaks and fractures, particularly in the hip, spine and wrist areas. Healthy bones are continuously being renewed, with old bone being removed by cells known as osteoclasts and new bone being built by osteoblasts.

"In people with osteoporosis the timeworn bones are destroyed faster than they can be replaced, making them thinner and therefore more fragile,” explains Tereza Hough of the National Osteoporosis Foundation of South Africa.

Diets not good enough

“Most fad diets exclude calcium rich foods such as milk, yoghurt and cheese, and herein lies the problem,” says Hough.

She adds, “With rising numbers of African women subscribing to eating plans designed to bring down the number on the scale, they are quite literally changing the properties and mass of their bones and as a result, increasing their chances of getting osteoporosis later on in life”.

Although osteoporosis can be found in both men and women, it is more prevalent in post-menopausal females, and now this trend is extending to African women as a result of recent developments such as urbanisation. Genetic factors also have a key role to play in a person’s risk of developing the disease and those with a history of the condition in their family should go for regular BMD tests to assess their bones’ state of health.

“The good news is that several steps can be taken to combat the onslaught of this disease. Weight watchers can include calcium rich foods that are not fattening on their daily menus such as nuts and seeds, including almonds and sesame, beans, oranges, figs, broccoli and green leafy vegetables like kale. Furthermore, weight bearing exercises are very good for building bone strength and are great for the figure too,” says Hough.

Increase calcium to lower osteoporosis risk

“A definite increase is being seen in the incidence of osteoporosis in modern African women. In light of this fact, I highly recommend that all females include the recommended daily allowance of calcium in their diets of 1 000 milligrams for adults under the age of 50, and 1 200 milligrams for those who have passed the 50 mark. Vitamin D is also a vital component in the fight against osteoporosis and doctors advise that the optimal intake is between 1 000 IU and 2 000 IU per day,” says osteoporosis specialist, Dr Stan Lipschitz.

Those in the know are concerned about the higher prevalence of osteoporosis in African women. Shouldn’t you be concerned too? Speak to your doctor about being tested for osteoporosis and ask about the best treatment for your condition and lifestyle.

Alternatively visit the National Osteoporosis Foundation of South Africa (NOFSA)’s website ( for more information and assistance. Don’t let the silent epidemic get the best of you. Stand tall for your independence today.  - (Press release, February 2011)


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Healthy Bones

Tereza is the CEO of the National Osteoporosis Foundation and worked as a Nursing Sister in the field of Osteoporosis for 18 years prior to her appointment with the Foundation. She used to be the Educational Officer for the Foundation and co-wrote the patient brochure on Osteoporosis. Read more

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