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New study links osteoporosis to air pollution

“Air pollution continues to rise at an alarming rate, and affects economies and people’s quality of life; it is a public health emergency.”

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A new study by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health shows that air pollution can weaken bones.

Published in The Lancet Planetary Health, the paper is the first to document the high rates of hospital admissions for bone fractures in communities with elevated levels of ambient particulate matter (high air pollution).

Low-income communities are particularly at risk. The study found that in poorer communities, where air pollution is especially high, there is an elevated risk of bone fracture admissions.

Researchers conducted the study on osteoporosis-related fracture hospital admissions among 9.2 million Medicare enrollees in the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic between 2003-2010. Their findings showed that even a small increase of ambient particulate matter could lead to an increase in bone fractures in older adults.

According to the researchers of the study, ambient particulate matter can cause systemic oxidative damage and inflammation, which could accelerate bone loss and increase risk of bone fracture in older adults.

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Osteoporosis is a serious condition, especially amount elderly adults. There are an estimated 2 million osteoporosis-related bone fractures in the U.S. each year, totaling about $20 billion in health costs. In the year after an older adult experiences a bone fracture, the risk of death increases by up to 20 percent, and only 40 percent of those that have had a fracture regain their independence. The World Health Organization (WHO) considers osteoporosis the second leading cause of disability globally after cardiovascular disease.

Air pollution has previously been linked to countless other health problems, including cancer, respiratory illness, fetal defects, blood disorders and neurological problems. A recent study by WHO states, “To date, air pollution – both ambient (outdoor) and household (indoor) – is the biggest environmental risk to health, carrying responsibility for about one in every nine deaths annually. Air pollution continues to rise at an alarming rate, and affects economies and people’s quality of life; it is a public health emergency.”

Authors of the study suggest that additional research on osteoporosis needs to include examining the impact of environmental factors, as genetic factors are not a major determinant of the disease.

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