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South Asian women in UK may have higher osteoporosis risk

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Pre-menopausal South Asian women could be more at risk of developing osteoporosis in later life than white women, with implications for falling and fractures, according to UK researchers.

In what they say is the first study of its kind, researchers examined bone tissue breakdown by osteoclast cells in over 370 pre- and post-menopausal South Asian and white Caucasian women living in the UK.

“We need to investigate further whether… there is something more worrying occurring in their skeletal system”

Andrea Darling

So-called bone resorption is a natural process that enables the transfer of calcium from bone tissue into the bloodstream and is required to allow bone to adapt itself to challenges and repair damage.

However, if excessive, and not balanced by equivalent bone formation, overtime it can be detrimental to bone health, noted the study authors from Surrey University in the journal Bone.

Monitoring the women over 12 months, they measured levels of urinary N terminal telopeptide a by-product of bone resorption found in urine – to assess how much bone was being broken down.

They found pre-menopausal South Asian women had higher levels of the by-product than their Caucasian counterparts, indicating elevated levels of bone resorption than expected for their age.

Typically, high levels of the biomarker are only found in post-menopausal women, as was the case with the post-menopausal participants in their study, said the researchers.

They said it indicated that pre-menopausal South Asian women might be breaking down bones at a quicker rate than they were being reformed, making them more susceptible to osteoporosis and fractures in later life.

Lead study author Dr Andrea Darling said: “What we have found is that pre-menopausal South Asian women have the same level of bone resorption as a woman who has been through the menopause.

“We need to investigate further whether these women simply have higher levels of both bone resorption and bone formation or if there is something more worrying occurring in their skeletal system, in terms of higher than expected bone resorption, increasing their susceptibility to bone diseases and fractures,” she said.

University of Surrey

Warning signs of osteoporosis in South Asian women

Andrea Darling

During the study researchers also examined vitamin D levels of pre- and post-menopausal participants and its impact on bone resorption.

They found women whose vitamin D levels fluctuated with the seasons had higher levels of bone resorption than those whose levels remained consistent throughout the year.

The fluctuation was found to be more prevalent among the white Caucasian women, which the researchers suggested could be attributed to lifestyle factors, such as summer sunbathing.

Dr Darling said: “The fluctuation in vitamin D levels in white Caucasian women living in the UK is not surprising, as the level of sunshine we are exposed to varies with the season.

“Those who experience such a fluctuation in vitamin D can stabilise their levels by taking a vitamin D supplement in winter only,” she said. 

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