The Weird and Concerning Reason Human Bones Are Getting More Brittle

Unfortunately, you can’t do much to avoid it.

  • A Columbia University study says air pollutants have increased bone damage among postmenopausal women.
  • The study explores the connection between air pollution and bone mineral density.
  • Air pollution can double the density reduction that age already brings on.

    Is the air we breathe making us weaker? A Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health study, published in the peer-reviewed journal eClinicalMedicine, sifted through data on over 160,000 postmenopausal women and found that air pollution weakened bone mineral density at an annual rate of 1.22 percent, nearly double the annual effects of age alone.

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    “Our findings confirm that poor air quality may be a risk factor for bone loss, independent of socioeconomic or demographic factors,” Diddier Prada, associate research scientist at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health and first author on the study, says in a news release. “For the first time, we have evidence that nitrogen oxides, in particular, are a major contributor to bone damage and that the lumbar spine is one of the most susceptible sites of this damage.”

    Car and truck exhaust, emissions from electrical power generation plants, and the agricultural industry all contribute to our world’s production of nitrous oxides.

    “Improvements in air pollution exposure, particularly nitrogen oxides, will reduce bone damage in postmenopausal women, prevent bone fractures, and reduce the health cost burden associated with osteoporosis among postmenopausal women,” lead author Andrea Baccarelli, chair of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia Mailman, says in the news release.

    With about 2.1 million osteoporosis-related bone fractures annually, 80 percent of those impacted are women. Already, Columbia research showed that long-term air pollution exposure reduces bone mineral density and increases bone fractures risk. Baccarelli wants to see further research to detect if certain individuals are at higher risk of the air pollution-related bone damage.