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Air Pollution May Increase Bone Fracture Risk: Study

New research suggests that exposure to air pollution may increase an older individual’s risk of developing osteoporosis and bone fractures. 

In a study published in the November issue of the journal The Lancet Planetary Health, Harvard researchers reviewed the findings of two long-term studies that indicate older adults’ bone strength may be affected by poor air quality.

Air pollution exposure was linked to a higher risk of osteoporosis and broken bones, compared to other older adults not exposed to air pollution.

In recent months, health risks associated with air pollution have gained media attention, as other studies have linked poor air quality to increased risk of heart disease from damaged blood vessels and increased risk of some types of stroke. A report issued in October indicated air pollution killed more than 9 million people worldwide in 2015 alone.

Of the two studies reviewed, the first involved data from more than 9.2 million Medicare patients over 65 years of age from the northeast-mid-Atlantic region of the United States. The research focused on older adults hospitalized between January 2003 and December 2010 for fractures, indicating that long-term concentrations of particulate matter 2.5 (PM 2.5), or air pollution with particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers, were associated with hospital admissions for osteoporosis-related bone fractures. Hospital admissions for osteoporosis were greater in areas with high levels of PM 2.5.

Even a small increase in PM 2.5 was associated with an increase in fractures among older adults.

The second study used in the analysis followed nearly 700 middle aged, low-income men from the Boston area. The average age of participants was 46 years old. They were involved in the Boston Area Community Health/Bone Survey (BACH/Bone study). Participants had an annual measure of their bone mineral density over 8 years, beginning November 2002 through July 2005. Follow-ups were conducted from June 2010 to October 2012.

Researchers focused on the relationship between black carbon and PM 2.5 concentrations and the link to parathyroid hormones, which contribute to calcium levels in the body, calcium levels, and vitamin D.

The study indicated black carbon and PM 2.5 were associated with lower serum parathyroid hormones. Increased exposure to black carbon was associated with higher bone mineral density loss in various bone sites, including femoral neck and ultra distal radius bones. The risk was especially high among low-income communities.

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

The claims that air pollution has a particular effect on the elderly resemble those of a study published in 2016, which found that air pollution contributed to degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

A study published in 2016 indicated low-income communities, especially minority communities, are more likely to be in the path of harmful air pollution than affluent neighborhoods. Another study published that year indicated air pollution will prematurely kill more than 4.5 million people yearly by 2040 unless drastic measures are taken.

Past reports have shown air pollution affects 9 out of 10 people worldwide.

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