Our fragile bodies: How Osteoporosis has been linked to air pollution

July 12, 2022

How is air pollution related to Osteoporosis? Just when we thought that air pollution couldn’t become even more harmful, research has found that our very bones can become brittle by being exposed to it.

Not strong enough

Our body is a wonder of Nature. It took millions of years of geological change and biological evolution to obtain the basic blueprint of the early humans, a basic shape that has become more sophisticated with the passage of time. All our organs and tissue, all of the fibers and mineral that make up our body, are the result of the ages, and it truly becomes a surprise to us when we stop for a moment to think about all the little details that make our bodies function.

No human body can be properly sustained without a functional skeleton. It is a mineralized structure made of calcium, specialised cells, marrow, and connective tissue that carries the body’s weight and, in conjunction with human musculature, allows movement. Bones are strong enough to sustain high pressures and they require an intense impact to break apart. To put it into perspective, the average human femur requires an impact with a force of 4.000 newtons, around 900 pounds, to be broken apart.

Bones, however, do not seem to be strong enough against air pollution. That, at least, is the conclusion reached by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, who conducted two independent studies to understand the negative effects that fine particulate matter has in our bone structures. The results were published in the medical journal The Lancet Planetary Health, and they are not pretty. In a nutshell: it was found that osteoporosis-related loss of our bones’ mineral density could be directly associated with exposure to air pollution, such as PM 2,5 particles, but also Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and Carbon Monoxide (CO).

The data was obtained through two very long studies. The first one, between 2003 and 2010, looked at the rate of hospital admissions for bone-related problems, such as fractures, in areas under large concentrations of PM 2,5 air pollution. The second one, done between 2002 and 2010, looked at the correlation between long-term concentrations of black carbon and PM 2,5 particles with deficiency in calcium homoeostasis (That is, the process that maintains normal levels of calcium in the blood). As is usual with these studies, it was found that people who live in low-income communities run the highest risk of developing bone-related issues, as their homes are located in highly polluted areas. Not surprisingly, the data pool showed that the elderly are the most affected, while those who live in areas with less concentrations of pollutants have healthier bone mineral density.

How can air pollution affect bones in such a way?

It is normal for human bones to weaken over time. Their mass is absorbed by the human body, but is also replenished at a constant rate. This process begins to slow down at a very early age, as early as in our 20s, but a healthy lifestyle and good physical activity can sustain us for many years. Osteoporosis happens when we lose more bone mass than we can replenish, which results in brittle bones that lead to fractures. No symptoms are found prior to a bone breaking due weakness in mineral density; it can happen after a big impact or after something as gentle as a hug.

Weakness of the bones is a natural process of an ageing human body, but how is it possible for air pollution to aggravate it? PM 2,5 particles are incredibly small, and therefore, highly penetrative. They get through the skin, and traces of them have been found in organs, blood vessels and, yes, bone. PM 2,5 particles can cause inflammation and oxidative damage, a process that the researchers have suggested could accelerate the loss of bone density. The introduction of toxins and other foreign substances in the body is never a good idea. Tobacco smoke has been associated with higher risks of developing osteoporosis, so it is no surprise that heavy duty air pollution produced by motor vehicles and industrial processes contributes as well to the weakness of our bones.

It is a cause of worry to know that calcium homeostasis can be affected by PM 2,5 particles, as well as black carbon and NO2. If the homeostatic process is interrupted by these external toxins, and concentration of calcium in the blood go bellow the natural levels (10 mg/dL), we run the risk of developing Hypocalcemia, which is another way of calling calcium deficiency in the blood. That is a nasty situation to be in, since it can lead to dental problems and, of course, osteoporosis.

The health benefits of breathing fresh air

In this magazine we usually run the gauntlet of health problems associated with air pollution. From risks to pregnant women and psychological issues in children, to a diminishment in intelligence, and now we have osteoporosis to add to our growing list of concerns. If there is something we can learn from all of this, is that clean air brings with it all kinds of benefits. Not only will a cleaner environment help us deal with cardiovascular problems and lung diseases, but it will also maintain the strength of our bones, the very structures that allow us to move and make a happy living.

In other articles we have talked about how outdoors air pollution does not stay outdoors. Sometimes, ventilating our houses and offices can work against us, as it brings inside many of the pollutants in our streets. Indoors air pollution may lead to bone damage just as much as outdoors because the same pollutants can be found in our homes and workspaces. Keeping plants around is a good first step to filter out some of these toxins, as they are absorbed by the fibers, but there is only so much plants can do in keeping us healthy. Fortunately, there are ways to do so.

AIR8 can help

The importance of fresh indoors air should be understood by now. Our products have been designed with various spaces in mind, so there is a solution in our catalogue for each of your air purification needs. We use the latest medical-grade HEPA-13 technology, which is employed by some of the most demanding industries that require their employees to work on fresh and sanitary environments.

Our products can filter 99,97% of all toxins and contaminants found indoors. All the air pollution that is produced by broken and unventilated appliances, by old carpets and the mold that sometimes grows in the corners can easily be captured and processed by our technology, as we use various stages of pre-filtration and filtration, such as Ioniser and UV-GI Lights. Viruses like Covid-19 are easily filtered out by our technology, and the same can be said about pollen, animal dander and tobacco smoke.

We have a responsibility with our clients, and that is why we would like you to look at what we have to offer. Our solutions cover a wide range of industries, and we will be more than happy to get in touch with you and talk about your needs. Keeping ourselves healthy is important, and there are many simple things we can do the guarantee it. But when not even a healthy lifestyle can fight against the pollution that penetrates and weakens our bodies, then it is the time to bring the technology that can do it for us.