Diets Build Better Bones?
By Jim Core
June 1, 200
Native Americans have denser bones than
Caucasians despite not eating many dairy foods,
Agricultural Research Service scientists
Navajos, the largest tribe of North American Indians, may have low bone
fracture rates because of genetic differences. But environmental and cultural
differences also may play a role, according to Judith G. Hallfrisch, a research
chemist with the ARS Beltsville Human
Nutrition Research Center in Beltsville, Md.
A lack of calcium can lead to osteoporosis, which literally means
"porous bone." It is characterized by a decrease in normal bone
density that causes bones to become brittle and leads to frequent hip fractures
and other serious problems. Nearly 10 million Americans suffer from
osteoporosis, according to the National Institutes
The onset of this degenerative disease can be prevented or delayed by taking
several preventive measures, such as exercising, not smoking, limiting alcohol
intake and eating dairy products and other foods that are high in calcium and
Hallfrisch and her colleagues are collaborating with investigators at
Utah State University in Logan to determine
how overall mineral intake is related to bone health and other conditions in
Navajos. The scientists believe there is something in the Navajos' drinking
water or food that is contributing to their sturdy bone structures.
Hallfrisch and colleagues visited a Navajo reservation in the Southwest and
analyzed more than 100 water samples for minerals. Navajos on this reservation
get water from wells, springs and taps and store it in barrels. The water was
found to have high mineral content.
In addition, one of Hallfrisch's colleagues in Utah is analyzing juniper
ash--a gray, finely ground powder traditionally added to native dishes--to
determine if its minerals contribute to decreased bone-related injuries.
A more detailed story on this research appears in the June issue of Agricultural Research, ARS'
ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Scientific contact: Judith G. Hallfrisch,
ARS Diet and Human
Performance Laboratory, Beltsville, Md., phone (301) 504-9061, fax (301)