Broken Bones? Check Your Air Quality.

You probably know about the more common ways that air pollution can affect your body. Pollutants in your air can lead to heart problems, lung disease, and even premature death. But, low air quality can also affect your body in other lesser-known ways. For instance, a new study shows that living in polluted cities may make your bones weaker and easier to break.

What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a disease in which bones become brittle and weak as the body loses more bone mass than it can rebuild. Broken bones among the elderly are most often the result of osteoporosis.  

What makes osteoporosis particularly dangerous is that no symptoms are present prior to a break… meaning that an elderly person may not know they have it until something as simple as a hug or a minor fall could land them in the hospital. In the year after an older adult has a bone fracture, the risk for death increases by as much as 20 percent, and only 40 percent of those who had fractures regain their independence.

The study

Between 2009 and 20012, researchers from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health studied 3,700 people, all of whom lived in villages just outside the city of Hyderabad in southern India to see how pollution affected their bones.

PM2.5 and black carbon were measured in the atmosphere in each village. 

The results

Analysis revealed that the average PM2.5 exposure was 33 micrograms per metre cubed (ug/m3) – which is more than three times higher than 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 the participants’ lower backs and hips. The results showed that 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. 

These results seem to suggest that fine particulate matter speeds up the aging process in bones and makes them more brittle and easier to break. 

Was this the first study linking pollution to brittle bones?

Nope. In 2017, a study by Columbia University was the first to find a link between traffic fumes and fractures caused by osteoporosis. The study, which looked at osteoporosis-related fracture hospital admissions in the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic between 2003-2010, showed that even a small increase in fine particulate matter concentrations could lead to an increase in bone fractures in older adults.

What is fine particulate matter?

Particulate matter are a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air. Some particles, such as dust, dirt, soot, or smoke, are large or dark enough to be seen with the naked eye. Particulate matter is usually classified by size with fine (PM2.5) and ultrafine (UFP)  being the smallest and most dangerous. 

The tiny size of this particulate matter allows it to be easily inhaled and spread throughout the body, causing inflammation and multiple health concerns, including brittle bones. 

There are many factors that can contribute to osteoporosis that we have no control of such as family history, age, family history, ethnicity, and gender. But, fortunately, there are some things we can do about osteoporosis that is linked to air quality.

Policy change

Because air pollution is often a structural issue, the most effective way to improve air quality is to support leaders and legislation that aims to curb emissions and move away from fossil fuels. 

Location

Whenever possible, choose to live in locations with better air quality. Currently, Hawaii, Washington, and Alaska have the lowest pollution levels in the United States. No matter where you live, it’s always a good idea to check your local air quality index before going outside. 

Air purifier

Because most of us spend around 90% of our time indoors and indoor air tends to be 2 to 5 times more polluted than outdoor air, keeping your home clean is vital to good health. The right air purifier will remove PM2.5.  

Which type of purifier is best for removing PM2.5?

There are many different types of air purifiers, all of which claim to remove pollutants. Unfortunately, many of these purifiers are not actually very effective and some even release additional pollutants into your home air. 

A high-quality air purifier with a True HEPA filter like aeris’s aair 3-in-1 Pro is your best bet for removing PM2.5 and other harmful pollutants. 

The aair 3-in-1 Pro uses a HEPA 13 filter embedded with 2 lbs of activated carbon to filter out 99.95% of ultra-fine particles at 0.1 microns. meaning that both harmful particulate matter and chemicals will be removed from your air, helping to keep your bones strong throughout the different stages of life.

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