There are certain factors that affect our bones that we have no real control over – factors which are the very basis and kernel of who we are; our gender and our ethnicity. These deep genetic blueprint elements play an important role in determining the strength and health of our bones, impacting both bone density and susceptibility to fractures and other bone-related conditions during our lifetimes.

Gender and bones

  • Unfortunately, women are at a higher risk than men of developing osteoporosis, a condition characterised by weak and brittle bones. This is because women typically have smaller and thinner bones than men, which can lead to a faster loss of bone density as they age. In addition, the decrease in estrogen production during menopause can further accelerate bone loss in women.
  • Although men have larger and stronger bones than women, developed during male puberty, they are still susceptible to bone-related conditions as they age. While the number of women suffering bone fractures from osteoporosis is higher than men, the fact that men are living longer due to medical advancements, they too are beginning to present in greater numbers with this condition.
  • Gender also plays a role in determining the location of fractures. Women are more likely to suffer from fractures in the spine, hip, and wrist, while men are more likely to suffer from fractures in the arm and leg bones.

Ethnicity and bones

  • Ethnicity influences bone heath in a number of ways. Research has shown that individuals of African descent typically have a higher bone density than individuals of European descent. This means that Africans are less likely to suffer from osteoporosis and fractures than Caucasians, although recent studies have shown that our Black population may have a higher risk of osteoporosis than previously thought.
  • On the other hand, individuals of Asian descent are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis than individuals of European descent. This is because Asians typically have smaller and thinner bones than Caucasians, making them more susceptible to bone loss as they age.
  • Ethnicity can also impact the location of fractures. Interestingly enough, Africans in general are more likely to suffer from fractures in the arm and leg bones, while Caucasians are more likely to suffer from fractures in the spine, hip, and wrist.

Other factors affecting bone health

While gender and ethnicity play a significant role in bone health, other factors also play a role. These include:
Age: Bone density decreases as we age, making us more susceptible to fractures and other bone-related conditions.
Lifestyle: A sedentary lifestyle and a diet lacking in calcium and Vitamin D can all contribute to weak and brittle bones.
Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption: These habits can contribute to bone loss and weakened bones.
Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as hyperthyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, HIV, celiac disease and many more, can increase the risk of thinning and fragile bones.
Medications: Long-term use of certain medications, such as corticosteroids, anti-retrovirals, anti-epileptic medications etc can contribute to bone loss and increase the risk of fractures.

If you think you are at risk for bone-related disease, you must consider a bone density test as soon as possible to determine your risk and provide guidance on prevention and treatment.

Preventing bone-related conditions

While some factors impacting bone health, such as age, ethnicity, and gender, cannot be changed, there are steps that individuals can take to prevent and slow the decline of their bones.
Exercise: Weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, jogging, and weightlifting, can help build bone density and strength.
Nutrition: Get a diet going as young as possible that is rich in calcium. Get out in the sun for 30 minutes every day – this will give you the right amount of Vitamin D to help you maintain strong and healthy bones.
Smoking: Keep healthy by avoiding this devastating habit that does your body no good at all.
Alcohol: Keep the word moderation in mind when you imbibe. An occasional drink with friends is not going to do much harm, but drinking regularly can present you with bone issues as you age.

While gender and ethnicity both play an important role in determining bone health, taking steps to maintain strong bone health long before you might experience any symptoms, is the best route to keeping your risks low and maintaining strong and healthy bones.

Bones and ancestry play an important role in who we are. Be yourself, love yourself – but take care of your bony heritage. Love your bones!

NOFSA (National Osteoporosis Foundation South Africa)

NOFSA is the only non-profit, voluntary health organisation dedicated to promoting lifelong bone health. We focus on reducing the widespread prevalence of osteoporosis while working to find a cure for the disease, and by supporting research and developing programmes of education and advocacy.

Find out more about our work at: