A team of international researchers recently found the more poor-quality air people breathe, the more damage they’re making to their bones. According to them, no matter the levels of pollution there are in the environment where a person lives, they will slowly make the mass in their bones decrease and lead it to suffer from fractures and other diseases, like osteoporosis.

The analysis from two independent studies showed that the most affected people are those living in low-income communities, as well as those living in third-world countries where pollution is not the biggest concern. However, it also suggested that people living in places with low levels of pollution also tend to develop the same weaknesses.

The study was performed by researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, New England Research Institute, Northwestern University, the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, and other institutions.

The researchers use data from 9.2 million Medicare enrollees  individuals 65 years and older  studied for over eight years.

Since January 2003 to December 2010, scientists gathered information from those living in the northeast and mid-Atlantic portions of the United States  two parts of the country whit different levels of pollution.

Air pollution and bone loss, Pollution and osteoporosis, Bone loss
Any level of pollution affects human bones. Image credit: Scroll.in

What affects all individuals are the amounts of particulate matter (PM2.5) found in the contaminated air, they discovered. According to the comparison between the studies that The Lancet Planetary Health published this month, the individuals who lived in big, metropolitan cities were who most reported bone-fractures related to osteoporosis and other diseases.

“Reducing emissions as a result of innovation in technologies or policy changes in emission standards of this modifiable risk factor might reduce the impact of air pollution on bone fracture and osteoporosis,” Andrea Baccarelli from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York, wrote on the study.

Two studies concluded that air pollution affects our bones

In the first study, scientists noted that people who lived in environments with high amounts of small particulate matter (less than 2·5 μm) in the air had 4.1 percent more chances to be admitted into hospitals due to bone-fractures, sometimes related to osteoporosis. However, in communities where the income is low, the risk was even higher. The experts realized that these people were more likely to be accepted in medical facilities by at least 7.6 percent.

The second study was a little bit similar. Scientist gathered 692 middle-aged, low-income men from Boston, and saw that some of them were slowly suffering from bone-loss in their femurs (thigh bone) and radii (a lower arm bone) because they weren’t producing calcium as they should.

Air pollution and bone loss, Pollution and osteoporosis, Bone loss
Contaminated air leads to bones fractures and bone loss. Image credit: Vegan Magazine

Scientists discovered that the ones who lived in areas where the air was more contaminated tended to have fewer amounts of parathyroid hormone  a hormone that helps regulate the levels of calcium in the blood and repair damages in bones  than those who lived in places with lower levels of pollution.

“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,” said the lead researcher Dr. Andrea Baccarelli.

All these millions of studied individuals lived in areas where the levels of small particulate matter are lower than the limits that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets  which is 12 μg/m3. Moreover, these same limitations are practically equal to those established by other nations.

Our bones are extremely complex. They are not simple sticks that can hold our bodies together; these are important, dynamic parts continually changing. Age is the principal factor why these begin to fail, but it’s just one reason from many. The associations revealed by these international researchers show that the human body can be affected daily.

Researchers around the world agree with the study’s conclusion 

Tuan Nguyen, Ph.D., of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in New South Wales, Australia, said that this study is just one of many others that researchers are making all around the world. According to him, air pollution is largely being associated with osteoporosis and bone loss.

Previous studies linked pollution to bone loss. Image credit: Spine-health

Nguyen said that the fragility fracture consequences that came with this disease represent “one of the most important public health problems worldwide” because these exact fractures are related to “increased mortality.”

“Conceptually, an individual’s risk of fracture is grounded by the individual’s genome and modified by the individual’s exposome. The delineation of the interaction between genome and exposome has the potential to transform our thinking about the etiology of osteoporosis,” said Tuan Nguyen – MedPage reported.

There are millions of microscopic molecules floating in the world, so it’s highly probable that people keep living a normal life, breathing contaminated air without noticing it. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) Europe, air is often contaminated with heavy metals  like lead, cadmium, and mercury. These affect vitamin D concentrations in our body, suppress osteoblasts and stimulate osteoclasts.

Source: The Lancet Planetary Health