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Pollution Can Lead to Bone Loss in Older People

Researchers link osteoporosis and exposure to tiny airborne particles

Pollution Bone Density

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Pollution particles are small enough to penetrate deep into lung tissue and absorbed into the bloodstream.

While being hard on your lungs, air pollution apparently makes your bones more fragile.

New research published in the journal Lancet Planetary Health concludes that older people suffer higher rates of hospitalization for osteoporosis-related bone fractures in places where the air has higher concentrations of pollution particles that are 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter.

Such particles are incredibly tiny — they’re a small fraction of the width of a human hair – and can be seen only with an electron microscope. But they’re a major worry to health experts because they are small enough to penetrate deep into lung tissue and even to be absorbed into the bloodstream.

Researchers from Harvard and Columbia universities and other institutions analyzed hospital admissions for osteoporosis-related fractures among 9.2 million Medicare enrollees over an eight-year period ending in 2010, and they compared that data to levels of fine particles of pollution. They also compared pollution levels to studies of bone mineral density in low-income male patients in Boston from 2002 to 2012. Previous research has shown that people in poor communities generally are exposed to higher amounts of air pollution.

“Our results suggest that poor air quality is a modifiable risk factor for bone fractures and osteoporosis, especially in low-income communities,” the researchers concluded.

In an accompanying editorial, Australian public health researcher Tuan Nguyen wrote that pollution, rather than genetic factors, most likely is the main driver behind osteoporosis.