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Bone. 2005 Apr;36(4):710-20.

Parathyroid hormone and rates of bone formation are raised in perimenopausal rural Gambian women.

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MRC Human Nutrition Research, Elsie Widdowson Laboratory, Cambridge, UK.


To investigate rates of bone turnover and calcium homeostasis in Gambian women, we recruited 103 peri- and postmenopausal women, aged 45 to 80+ years and 11 women of reproductive age. Fasting blood was analyzed for plasma osteocalcin, PTH, 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D], 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D [1,25(OH)(2)D], total- and bone-specific alkaline phosphatase. Plasma and urinary calcium, inorganic phosphate, sodium, potassium, creatinine, and albumin and urine free deoxypyridinoline (Dpd) was also measured. Samples from 20 premenopausal and 31 postmenopausal women from Cambridge, UK were analyzed, using the same methodology for comparison. For the Gambian women, peak calcium excretion occurred at around 50 years of age. For women aged > or =45 years, calcium excretion decreased by 3.0% per year of age (SE 1%; P < 0.005). In this age group, 25(OH)D also decreased with age (P < 0.005). Urinary sodium output, pH, and titratable acid output decreased (all P < 0.05) and total alkaline phosphatase (P < 0.005), osteocalcin (P < 0.005), and PTH (P < 0.05) increased with age. Comparisons were made between the following groups of Gambian and British women: premenopausal, early (age 55-64 years)- and late (age 65+ years)-postmenopausal. Gambian women of all ages were lighter (P < 0.001), shorter (P < 0.01), and had higher plasma bone-specific alkaline phosphatase activity (P < 0.05) and higher concentrations of osteocalcin (P < 0.05), PTH (P < 0.001), 1,25(OH)(2)D (P < 0.001), and 25(OH)D (P < 0.001). There were no consistent differences in calcitonin, while urinary free Dpd outputs were lower in the Gambians (P < 0.001). Plasma calcium, phosphate, and albumin (P < 0.01) were significantly lower. Urinary calcium, phosphate, sodium, and potassium excretion were lower, particularly in the postmenopausal group (P < 0.001). Although Gambian urine pH was more acidic, titratable acid output was lower (P < 0.01). These data show that Gambian women with low dietary calcium intakes and good vitamin D status have low urinary calcium excretion and that menopausal changes in calcium and bone metabolism among Gambian women are similar to those seen in other populations. In addition, they demonstrate that Gambian women of all ages have raised plasma PTH and 1,25(OH)(2)D concentrations and raised markers of osteoblast activity. We postulate that high endogenous PTH concentrations may be beneficial to bone health in Gambian women, removing fatigue damage and improving bone quality.

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