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Ann Hum Biol. 1999 May-Jun;26(3):229-42.

An investigation of ethnic differences in bone mineral, hip axis length, calcium metabolism and bone turnover between West African and Caucasian adults living in the United Kingdom.

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  • 1Medical Research Council Dunn Nutrition Unit, Cambridge, UK.


The aim of the study was to investigate factors relating to calcium and bone metabolism which might explain the low incidence of osteoporotic fracture among Africans. Adult bone mineral status, hip axis length and biochemical indices were investigated in 20 Caucasians (10 male, 10 female) and 19 Gambians (12 male, 7 female) living in the UK. Bone mineral content (BMC), bone mineral density (BMD) and BMC adjusted for bone area, body weight and height (size-adjusted BMC) were measured for the whole-body, lumbar spine, femoral neck, trochanter, radius shaft and radius wrist using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. There were no significant differences in whole body or regional BMC; values tended to be lower in the Gambians. Gambian men had higher size-adjusted BMC at the femoral neck (Gambian-British = 21%, 95% CI = 6 to 36%, p < 0.01), associated with a smaller bone area (Gambian-British = -11%, 95% CI = -20 to -2%, p = 0.02). BMD was affected similarly. No other significant differences in BMD or size-adjusted BMC were observed. Gambians had shorter hip axis length (Gambian British, after accounting for sex, = -5%, 95% CI = -9 to -1%, p = 0.02). There were no significant differences in bone turnover (osteocalcin, bone isoenzyme of alkaline phosphatase, urinary deoxypyridinoline) or calciotropic hormone levels (parathyroid hormone, 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D, calcitonin). Gambian men had lower 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations (Gambian = 26.3 SD 12.0 nmol/L, British = 55.5 SD 13.9 nmol/L, p < 0.0001), a difference not seen among the women. Gambian men and women excreted significantly less phosphate and potassium than British subjects by 30-60%; urinary calcium and sodium excretion were similar in the two groups. This study revealed few ethnic differences that could account for the disparity in osteoporotic fracture rates between Africans and Caucasians, with the possible exception of anatomical differences in the hip.

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