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Bone quality: A determinant for certain risk factors for bone fragility


Low bone quantity alone is insufficient cause for fragility fractures. This paper examines the role of bone quality in the fracture risk associated with age, sex, and race. Aspects of bone quality to be considered are bone architecture, matrix, mineralization, and fatigue damage. The trabecular network becomes progressively disconnected and weaker with age. Death of old osteocytes leads to hypermineralization and brittleness of bone. The stability of bone collagen declines with age, and unremodeled bone accumulates fatigue damage. The lower bone fragility rates in males than in females may be due to a combination of the larger male skeleton, greater cortical bone density after age 60 years, and greater bone turnover which would replace fatigue damaged bone. Fragility fracture rates in American and African blacks are lower than in whites, bone mineral density (BMD) is greater in American but not in African blacks (except for hip BMD), and American blacks have lower and African blacks higher bone turnover compared to whites. In South African blacks, trabeculae are thicker and better connected and trabecular bone undergoes less destructive age changes than in whites. To reconcile the disparate findings in American and African blacks we suggest that both groups have a genetic tendency to greater BMD than whites; American blacks realize this potential and African blacks do not, possibly because of calcium deficiency. Consequent high turnover removes fatigue damage and so improves bone quality. Weight-bearing activity in African blacks may be responsible for good hip bone density and thick trabeculae. American and African blacks have lower fragility fracture rates than whites for different reasons: American blacks because of higher BMD, and African blacks because of higher bone turnover, better hip BMD, and sturdier trabeculae.

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Schnitzler, C.M. Bone quality: A determinant for certain risk factors for bone fragility. Calcif Tissue Int 53, S27–S31 (1993).

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Key words

  • Bone quality
  • Bone histology
  • Bone density
  • Race