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Air pollution increases osteoporosis risk

Friday 10th November 2017
Prolonged exposure to high levels of air pollution increases a persons risk of developing brittle bones, new research suggests. Image: Toa55 via iStock
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People who live in areas with higher levels of air pollution are more likely to suffer from brittle bones and have a subsequent increased risk of fractures, according to a new study.

Research carried out by scientists based at Columbia University in New York has found that individuals who live in urban locations where vehicle emission levels are higher than average are more likely to be diagnosed with osteoporosis.

This could therefore be something for radiographers to ask patients about when treating them for seemingly unexplained recurring fractures if there does not appear to be any other factor increasing their risk of brittle bones.

The researchers looked at the bone density records of more than nine million people in the US and found that those exposed to even just slightly more than the average level of air pollution from excess vehicle emissions were more likely to have weaker bones and be at greater risk of fractures and breaks.

Scientists believe that this is due to prolonged exposure to high levels of pollution affecting the production of key hormones that influence bone mineral levels. Consequently, this can dramatically increase a person's risk of osteoporosis.

Dr Andrea Baccarelli, co-author of the study, commented: "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.

"Among the many benefits of clean air, our research suggests, are improved bone health and a way to prevent bone fractures."

Earlier this year, the Duchess of Cornwall, who is the president of the National Osteoporosis Society, urged young people to follow a healthy diet and lifestyle to preserve their bone density and reduce their risk of developing brittle bones in the future.

With pollution levels rising at an incredibly fast pace in recent years, the Duchess' advice is arguably more important than ever to ensure there is not a marked increase in avoidable cases of osteoporosis in the future.

The full Columbia University study has been published in the Lancet journal.

Written by Megan Smith

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