Findings of a new study involving older adults have revealed that exposure to air pollution may raise the risk for osteoporosis and fractures.

Porous Bones

Osteoporosis, which means "porous bones," happens when the body makes too little bone, loses too much bone, or both, which may result in weaker bones that can break from fall or even from sneezing and minor bumps. The bone disease, marked by loss of height, back pain, and bent-over posture, affects more than 10 percent of older adults in the United States.

Exposure To Air Pollutants And Risk For Fractured Bones

In the new study, which was published in the Lancet Planetary Health on Nov. 9, Andrea Baccarelli, from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health in New York City, looked at the data of more than 9 million Medicare enrollees who were admitted to the hospital for fractures between the years 2003 and 2010.

They found that even a slight increase in exposure to PM2.5, the inhalable air pollution particulate matter with a diameter of no bigger than 2.5 micrometers, was linked to an increased risk for fractures.

Researchers also found that individuals who live in areas marked by higher levels of PM2.5 and black carbon, which comes from vehicle exhaust, had lower levels of an important calcium and bone-related hormone, as well as showed reduction in bone mineral density, compared with individuals who were exposed to lower levels of these pollutants.

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

Impact Of Polluted Air On Older Adults

The researchers noted that while the study found an association between air pollution and bone problems, their research did not prove a direct causal relationship. Nonetheless, a growing number of studies show the health dangers of dirty air, particularly on older members of the population.

"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," Baccarelli said.

In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in June 2017, researchers found that seniors are still at risk for premature death even when only exposed to levels of air pollution that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers safe.

In another study published in the Nature journal Translational Psychiatry in January 2017, researchers found that tiny air pollutants from vehicles and power plants can greatly raise the risk for dementia, which includes Alzheimer's Disease.

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