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Minority Women's Health

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Osteoporosis (OSS-tee-oh-puh-ROH-suhss) is a disease that thins and weakens the bones. This makes the bones break more easily. There are no symptoms. In fact, many people don't know they have osteoporosis until they break a bone.

African-American women, like all women, are at risk of osteoporosis. Many African-American women are at risk because they get too little calcium. One reason for this may be that as many as 3 in 4 African-American women are lactose-intolerant. Lactose-intolerant people have trouble digesting a type of sugar found in milk and other dairy foods. So, many lactose-intolerant people avoid these foods, which are good sources of calcium.

You can take steps to help prevent osteoporosis:

  • Get enough calcium each day. Calcium is needed to make and keep your bones strong. You can get calcium through the food you eat, calcium pills, or both. Foods rich in calcium include dairy products such as low-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt, cereals and orange juice with calcium added, and leafy green vegetables. You can get calcium pills at the grocery or drug store. Talk to your doctor before taking calcium pills. Follow these guidelines to be sure you get enough:
    • Women ages 19 to 50 need at least 1,000 mg of calcium every day.
    • Women over age 50 need at least 1,200 mg every day.
    If you are lactose intolerant, try eating dairy foods in small amounts over the day and eating more nondairy, calcium-rich foods. Lactase pills can help make it easier to digest dairy products. You also can take more calcium pills.
  • Get enough vitamin D each day. Vitamin D helps your body take in calcium. One way to get vitamin D is through sunlight. But you need 10 to 15 minutes of sunlight to the hands, arms, and face, two to three times a week to get enough vitamin D. The amount of sun exposure any one person needs depends on how sensitive your skin is to light, use of sunscreen, skin color, and pollution. A second way is eating foods rich in vitamin D, such as fortified milk. A third way is by taking a vitamin D pill. Ask your doctor how much vitamin D you need.
  • Get moving. Activities that make bones stronger include walking, jogging, stair-climbing, dancing, and lifting weights. Health benefits are gained by doing the following each week:
    • 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity
    • 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity
    • A combination of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity
    • Muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days of the week
  • Don't smoke. If you smoke, try to quit. For help along the way, check out our Quitting Smoking section.
  • Limit alcohol to no more than one drink per day. Heavy drinking is linked to lower bone density and higher risk of bone breaks.

Talk to your doctor about your osteoporosis risk. All women over 65 should have a bone mineral density test.

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Content last updated: January 15, 2015.

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