Higher levels of vitamin D usually have a positive effect on bone health, but it looks like that effect can be variable according to race. African Americans are reported to have the best bone health in the United States, so their low levels of Vitamin D don’t make sense with the current testing. It’s controversial, like so many aspects of health and nutrition.
On the Osteoporosis and Bone Physiology website, maintained by Susan Ott, MD, Professor of Medicine at the University of Washington, I found some very interesting information on the subject of vitamin D and African Americans.
On the site’s Vitamin D page, she referenced “…an analysis from the Women’s Health Initiative that found a higher risk of fracture in Black women whose serum vitamin D level was higher than 17 ng/ml. This is very different from White women who had a higher risk of fracture with low vitamin D. This suggests that recommendations for vitamin D should be different in White and Black women. Black women with vitamin D between 20 and 30 ng/ml had 48% more fractures than those with levels below 20.”
Dr. Ott said, “There are still many unanswered questions about vitamin D, and many clinical trials are in progress.” A 2013 NPR article reported, “The vast majority of African-Americans have plenty of the form of vitamin D that counts — the type their cells can readily use.” “The origin of this paradox is a fascinating tale of genes interacting with geography.”
Some doctors feel that there is no downside to supplementation, while others suggest further testing to see if their African American patients are truly vitamin D deficient. One of my African American clients was very glad to see that someone looked at the data by race because she had read that there was a “silent epidemic” of vitamin D deficiency among African Americans. She’s strength training, eating well, and doing everything possible to keep her bones strong, but concerned that the general recommendations for vitamin D might not be applicable to her.
I’m sure that we’ll hear more in the coming months and years about the clinical trials currently in progress. Stay tuned! In the meantime, read that NPR article. It’s fascinating!