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Poor air quality linked to bone loss and bone fracture risk

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New research suggests there is a link between air pollution and the risk of osteoporosis-related bone fractures.

A study by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found that areas with elevated levels of ambient particulate matter (PM2.5), a component of air pollution, have higher rates of hospital admissions for fractures, especially in low-income communities.

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

A second study by the same team revealed that people living in areas with higher levels of PM2.5 and black carbon, a component of air pollution from vehicle emissions, had lower levels of parathyroid hormone, a key calcium and bone-related hormone, and greater decreases in bone mineral density than those exposed to lower levels of these pollutants.

Writing in The Lancet Planetary Health, the researchers said that particulate matter, including PM2.5, is known to cause systemic oxidative damage and inflammation, which can result in accelerated bone loss and increased risk of bone fractures in older individuals.

They noted that tobacco smoke, which contains several toxic components also found in particulate matter, has been consistently associated with decreased bone mineral density and increased risk of fractures.

“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,” commented senior study author Professor Andrea Baccarelli, chair of Environmental Health Sciences at the Mailman School. “Among the many benefits of clean air, our research suggests, are improved bone health and a way to prevent bone fractures.”