Research has found a link between air pollution and osteoporosis-related loss of bone mineral density and risk of bone fractures.

Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health researchers found high rates of hospital admissions for bone fractures in communities with elevated levels of ambient particulate matter (PM2.5), a component of air pollution.

The findings suggest that even a small increase in PM2.5 concentrations would lead to an increase in bone fractures in older adults.

Breaking bones and losing independence

Osteoporosis, the most common reason for a broken bone among the elderly, is a disease in which bones become brittle and weak as the body loses more bone mass than it can rebuild.

Typically, no symptoms are present prior to a break, which often happens spontaneously or from something as harmless as a hug.

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In the year after an older adult has a bone fracture, risk for death increases by as much as 20 percent. Only 40 percent of those who had fractures regain their independence.

Related: Osteoporosis: Love your bones to protect your future

Air pollution impacts bone-related hormone

Eight years of a follow-up study of 692 middle-aged, low-income adults found that participants living in areas with higher levels of PM2.5 and black carbon, a component of air pollution from automotive emissions, had lower levels of parathyroid hormone.

Parathyroid hormone is a key calcium and bone-related hormone, and greater decreases in bone mineral density than those exposed to lower levels of these pollutants.

The researchers write that particulate matter, including PM2.5, is known to cause systemic oxidative damage and inflammation, which they suggest, could accelerate bone loss and increase risk of bone fractures in older individuals.

Smoking, which contains several particulate matter components, has been consistently associated with bone damage.

Related: Air pollution can cut your life short by 10 years

The need for clean air

“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, MD, PhD, chair of Environmental Health Sciences at the Mailman School and the study’s senior author.

“Among the many benefits of clean air, our research suggests, are improved bone health and a way to prevent bone fractures.”

In two studies published earlier this year reported that vitamin B can diminish the effects of air pollution-induced cardiovascular disease, as well as epigenetic damage to DNA. It is unclear if the benefits of vitamin B extend to bone loss.

Source:  Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health via

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