You can now add osteoporosis to the long list of negative medical impacts caused by air pollution. New research published in The Lancet Planetary Health reports that exposure to air pollution is associated with osteoporosis-related loss of bone mineral density and risk of bone fractures.
The team of scientists from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health looked at public health in communities that showed high levels of ambient particulate matter (PM 2.5), a component of air pollution. They documented hospital admissions for bone fractures and determined that an increase in PM 2.5 concentrations correlates with more bone fractures in older adult populations.
"Decades of careful research has documented the health risks of air pollution, from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, to cancer, and impaired cognition, and now osteoporosis," says Andrea Baccarelli, senior author of the study. "Among the many benefits of clean air, our research suggests, are improved bone health and a way to prevent bone fractures."
Osteoporosis can be a chilling condition and holds the prize for the most common reason of a fracture in older populations. Those with the disease suffer from brittle and weak bones due to a loss of bone mass as the body ages. This results in roughly 2 million osteoporosis-related bone fractures in the U.S. every year which cost upwards of $20 billion. Osteoporosis-related fractures can greatly impact older people’s lives; some studies report that risk for death increases by as much as 20 percent, and only 40 percent of those who had fractures regain their independence.
The findings from the study are particularly frightening because of the implications that they have for low-income populations. Low-income communities already suffer disproportionately from the effects of environmental waste and pollution. After following 692 middle-aged, low-income adults in the Boston Area Community Health/Bone Survey cohort for eight years, those living in areas with higher levels of PM2.5 and black carbon (a component of air pollution from automotive emissions) showed negative health impacts from the exposure to pollution. The participants had lower levels of parathyroid hormone, a hormone that regulates calcium and bone remodeling, as well as higher reductions in bone mineral density.
According to Science Daily, the study also explains that PM 2.5 additionally causes systemic oxidative damage and inflammation, which itself could accelerate bone loss. It adds that smoking, too, has shown to also increase bone damage.