How air pollution could lead to broken bones: City-dwellers exposed to toxic air ‘have weaker hips and spines and are more prone to fractures’
- Study of 4,000 people found link between pollution and lower bone density
- Toxic particles may speed up ageing process in bones and make them brittle
- Scientists came to conclusion after cross-referencing X-rays and pollution levels
Living in polluted cities may make your bones weaker and easier to break, research suggests.
A study of nearly 4,000 people in India found those who inhaled more toxic airborne particles had less bone mass in their spines and hips.
Spanish researchers believe bones are weakened because tiny pollutants seep into the blood when inhaled and speed up the ageing process.
Previous studies have linked pollution to low levels of parathyroid hormone, which regulates calcium production, leading to more fragile bones.
Living in polluted cities may make your bones weaker and easier to break. A study in India found people exposed to toxic particles had less bone density in their lower back (stock)
Smog-filled towns and cities have been linked to an increased risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, acute respiratory diseases such as asthma and even dementia.
But there have only been a few studies into its effect on bone health and results have so far been inconclusive.
In the latest paper, researchers from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health looked at 3,700 people between 2009 and 2012.
Participants were all residents from 28 villages just outside the city of Hyderabad, in southern India.
Toxic airborne particles belted out of car exhausts and industry have been linked to an increased risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, acute respiratory diseases such as asthma and even dementia.
They are thought to cause these conditions by seeping into the bloodstream when inhaled and causing inflammation.
Experts believe it weakens bones through the same mechanism.
The tiny particles speed up the ageing process and people’s bones naturally become weaker as they age.
Previous studies have also linked pollution to low levels of parathyroid hormone, which regulates calcium production, leading to more fragile bones.
Researchers took measurements of PM2.5 and black carbon in the atmosphere in each village.
PM2.5 is the finest type of particulate matter, while black carbon is a larger toxin. Both come mainly from petrol and diesel vehicle exhausts.
Analysis revealed average PM2.5 exposure was 33 micrograms per metre cubed (ug/m3) – far above the maximum 10ug/m3 levels recommended by the World Health Organisation.
By comparison, the average level is 13ug/m3 in London, 12ug/m3 in New York and 10ug/m3 in Sydney.
The researchers cross-referenced pollution levels with X-rays measuring bone mass in participant’s lower back, known as the lumbar spine, and hip.
Results showed that exposure to air pollution was associated with lower levels of bone mass.
For every 3ug/m3 increase in fine particulate matter, there was a decrease of -0.57g of bone mass in the spine and -0.13g in the hip.
An increase of 1ug/m3 of carbon saw bone density shrink by -1.13g in the spine and -0.35g in the hip.
Study lead author Otavio Ranzani said: ‘This study contributes to the limited and inconclusive literature on air pollution and bone health.
‘Inhalation of polluting particles could lead to bone mass loss through the oxidative stress and inflammation caused by air pollution.’ The findings were published in the journal Jama Network Open.
Smog-filled towns and cities have been linked to an increased risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, acute respiratory diseases such as asthma and even dementia
A 2017 study by Columbia University of more than nine million people was the first to find a link between traffic fumes and fractures caused by osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a health condition that weakens bones, making them fragile and more likely to break.
The study linked pollution exposure to low levels of parathyroid hormone, which regulates calcium production, leading to weaker bones and more hospitalizations for fractures.
It found hospital admissions for bone fractures were higher in communities with elevated levels of PM2.5.
More than 80 per cent of the world’s urban population is breathing unsafe levels of air pollution.
Described as an invisible killer, it causes an estimated seven million premature deaths a year worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation.
Pollution is also fuelling increases in degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, health experts fear.
Previous studies have found air pollution has a negative impact on students’ cognitive abilities.
Many pollutants are thought to directly affect brain chemistry in a variety of ways.
For instance, particulate matter from traffic and industry can carry toxins through small passageways and directly enter the brain.
WHAT HAVE RECENT STUDIES SHOWN POLLUTION CAN DO TO OUR BODIES?
CAUSE CHILDREN TO HAVE A LOW IQ: Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found in May 2019 that children born to mothers who live in polluted areas have an IQ that is up to seven points lower than those living in places with cleaner air.
CAUSE CHILDREN TO HAVE POORER MEMORY: Researchers at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health found boys exposed to greater levels of PM2.5 in the womb performed worse on memory tests by the time they are 10.
DELAY THE DEVELOPMENT OF CHILDREN: Youngsters who live less than one-third of a mile away from busy roads are twice as likely to score lower on tests of communication skills in infancy, found researchers at Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health in April. They were also more likely to have poorer hand-eye coordination.
MAKE CHILDREN MORE ANXIOUS: University of Cincinnati scientists claimed pollution may alter the structure of children’s brains to make them more anxious. Their study of 14 youngsters found rates of anxiety was higher among those exposed to greater levels of pollution.
CUT YOUR CHILD’S LIFE SHORT: Children born today will lose nearly two years of their lives because of air pollution, according to a report by the US-based Health Effects Institute and the University of British Columbia in April 2019. UNICEF called for action on the back of the study.
RAISE A CHILD’S RISK OF AUTISM: Researchers at Monash University in Australia discovered youngsters living in highly polluted parts of Shanghai have a 86 per cent greater chance of developing ASD. Lead author Dr Yuming Guo said: ‘The developing brains of young children are more vulnerable to toxic exposures in the environment.’
CAUSE ASTHMA IN CHILDREN: Four million children around the world develop asthma each year because of road traffic pollution, a major study by academics at George Washington University estimated. Experts are divided as to what causes asthma – but exposure to pollution in childhood increases the risk by damaging the lungs.
MAKE CHILDREN FAT: University of Southern California experts found last November that 10 year olds who lived in polluted areas when they were babies are, on average, 2.2lbs (1kg), heavier than those who grew up around cleaner air. Nitrogen dioxide pollution could disrupt how well children burn fat, the scientists said.
LEAVE WOMEN INFERTILE EARLIER: Scientists at the University of Modena, Italy, claimed in May 2019 that they believe pollution speeds up ageing in women, just like smoking, meaning they run out of eggs faster. This was based on them finding almost two-thirds of women who have a low ‘reserve’ of eggs regularly inhaled toxic air.
RAISE THE RISK OF A MISCARRIAGE: University of Utah scientists found in January that pregnant women are 16 per cent more likely to suffer the heartbreak of a miscarriage if they live in areas of high pollution.
RAISE THE RISK OF BREAST CANCER: Scientists at the University of Stirling found six women working at the same bridge next to a busy road in the US got breast cancer within three years of each other. There was a one in 10,000 chance the cases were a coincidence, the study said. It suggested chemicals in the traffic fumes caused the cancer by shutting down the BRCA genes, which try to stop tumours growing.
DAMAGE A MAN’S SPERM: Brazilian scientists at the University of Sao Paulo found in March that mice exposed to toxic air had lower counts and worse quality sperm compared to those who had inhaled clean air since birth.
MAKE MEN LESS LIKELY TO GET SEXUALLY AROUSED: Scientists at Guangzhou Medical University in China found rats exposed to air pollution struggled to get sexually aroused. Scientists believe it may also affect men, as inhaling poisonous particles may trigger inflammation in blood vessels and starve the genitals of oxygen – affecting men’s ability to become sexually aroused.
MAKE MEN MORE LIKELY TO HAVE ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION: Men who live on main roads are more likely to have difficulty getting an erection due to exposure to pollution, a Guangzhou University in China study suggested in February. Toxic fumes reduced blood flow to the genitals, tests on rats showed, putting them at risk of developing erectile dysfunction.
RAISE THE RISK OF PSYCHOSIS: In March, King’s College London scientists linked toxic air to intense paranoia and hearing voices in young people for the first time. They said uncovering exactly how pollution may lead to psychosis should be an ‘urgent health priority’.
MAKE YOU DEPRESSED: Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers found in January that that the more polluted the air, the sadder we are. Their study was based on analysing social media users in China alongside the average daily PM2.5 concentration and weather data where they lived.
CAUSE DEMENTIA: Air pollution could be responsible for 60,000 cases of dementia in the UK, researchers from King’s College London and St George’s, University of London, calculated last September. Tiny pollutants breathed deep into the lungs and enter the blood stream, where they may travel into the brain and cause inflammation – a problem which may trigger dementia.
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