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Your Environment. Your Health.

Air Pollution Linked to Osteoporosis

Andrea Baccarelli, M.D., Ph.D., Joel Schwartz, Ph.D.
Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, Harvard School of Public Health
R01ES02173, R01ES00002, R01ES015172

New NIEHS-funded research showed that poor air quality was associated with higher risk factor for bone fractures and osteoporosis, especially in low-income communities. Osteoporosis is characterized by low bone mass and density.

The research included two independent, but complementary, analyses. In one, the investigators examined osteoporosis-related fracture hospital admissions among 9.2 million Medicare enrollees in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions of the U.S. between 2003 and 2010. They found that a 4.18 microgram per cubic meter increase in the concentration of particulates less than 2.5 micrometers in size (PM2.5) was associated with a 4.1 percent higher rate of hospital admission for bone fracture, after adjusting for variables that might affect the fracture rate. The association between higher PM2.5 levels and increased bone fractures was evident even at PM2.5 concentrations below the 12 micrograms per cubic meter annual average limit set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The association was also stronger in communities with lower income.

A concurrent analysis examined data from eight years of follow-up among 692 middle-aged, low-income adults in the Boston Area Community Health/Bone Survey cohort. This analysis showed that participants living in areas with higher levels of PM2.5 and black carbon, which comes from automotive emissions, had lower levels of a hormone key for controlling calcium levels in bones. The researchers also found that for each 0.106 microgram per square meter increase in 1-year black carbon concentration, participants had a 0.08 percent per year decrease in neck bone mineral density and 0.06 percent per year decrease in radius bone mineral density.

Citation: Prada D, Zhong J, Colicino E, Zanobetti A, Schwartz J, Dagincourt N, Fang SC, Kloog I , Zmuda JM, Holick M, Herrera LA, Hou L, Dominici F, Bartali B, Baccarelli AA. 2017. Association of air particulate pollution with bone loss over time and bone fracture risk: analysis of data from two independent studies. Lancet Planet Health 1(8): e337-e347.

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