Could the air you breathe have an effect on your bones?
While at first this might seem like a far fetched idea, the quality of the air you breathe could, in fact, be affecting your bone health.
A recent article from eClinicalMedicine investigated the link between air pollution and bone health. As the introduction of the study outlines, everything in your environment impacts yours bones—your physical surroundings, water, food, sunshine, and so on. Air pollution is another environmental factor that could have an impact on your health. While previous studies have confirmed a relationship between air pollution and decreased bone density, this study was the first to look specifically into how it affects post-menopausal women.
Over 9,000 women between the ages of 50 to 79 were included in this study from three different medical centers within the US. Using DXA scans, these women's overall, hip, hip joint (femoral neck), and lower (lumbar) spine bone density was measured initially and at 3, 6, and 9 years following. Over this time, the air quality from the areas these women lived in was measured using data from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The findings? Higher levels of air pollution meant lower levels of bone density, particularly in the lower (lumbar) spine. Their findings are consistent with previous studies, which also suggested that air pollution has a negative affect on bone health. Because post-menopausal women are a group most affected by bone loss, these findings are especially important. Women living in areas with higher air pollution had higher rates of bone loss. However, it is unclear whether this extra amount of bone loss implies a higher risk of fracture. The authors point to this as a potential future research question.
If you're wondering how exactly does air pollution cause bone loss, the authors of this study tracked specific molecules, including NO2, NO, SO2, PM10 particles. These molecules are known to react with the cells in the human body, causing damage to the cells so that they cannot function properly. Because bone is an active tissue, with cells that are constantly being built up and broken down, the authors point out that pollution could damage those cells, leading to low bone density. More research is needed to confirm this.
If you live in an area with high levels of air pollution, focus on nutrition. While nutrition is important for anyone's bone health, the authors of this study state that it can be especially crucial for those exposed to air pollution, as is getting the right amount of vitamin D and calcium.