Is air pollution bad for your bones?
Poor air quality has a wide variety of unpleasant health consequences, such as asthma, a decrease in male fertility, and cardiovascular disease. But recent research has also shined a spotlight on another problem: an increase in the risk of developing osteoporosis.
A team of researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Northwestern University, and other institutions conducted two studies looking at the relationship between components of air pollution, like elevated levels of particulate matter and osteoporosis, a condition that results in brittle and weak bones and a greater risk of fractures.
Increase Incidence of Bone Fractures
In the study published by The Lancet, researchers analyzed osteoporosis-related hospital admissions among 9.2 million Medicare enrollees in the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic region of the United States from 2003 to 2010. The findings: Even a small increase in small particulate matter concentrations is associated with a rise in bone fractures among older adults. The research also documented that there is an especially high rate of admissions for bone fracture in low-income communities.
The study, which evaluated 692 middle-aged low-income men, found that individuals living in areas with higher small particulate matter and concentrations of black carbon, a component of air pollution from automotive emissions, had lower levels of a hormone that regulates calcium levels and the rebuilding of bones. As the study indicates, particulate matter is known to cause systemic oxidative damage and inflammation. Researchers suggest this characteristic of particulate matter, in particular, could accelerate bone loss and increase the risk of bone fractures.
Fractures and Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is the most common reason for fractures among the elderly. There are approximately two million osteoporosis-related bone fractures a year in the U.S., resulting in $20 billion in annual direct health costs. The consequences are serious: In addition to potentially ending the ability of an individual to live independently, the risk for death increases by as much as 20 percent.
Is there anything you can do to protect yourself? Certainly, many doctors say you can try to prevent osteoporosis with regular weight-bearing exercise and a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D. In addition, one way to reduce the amount of particulate matter in your home is to use a smart air purifier with a HEPA filter, like Airmega.