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Air Pollution has been found to speed up the rate of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women, according to a recent US study. The research indicates that air Pollution accounts for a doubling of the speed of bone loss in women, which puts them at greater risk of fractures. Osteoporosis affects around 10 million people in the US, with 80% of sufferers being women. The disease weakens bones, resulting in over 2 million fractures a year in the US, which cost more than $20bn annually. In the UK, osteoporosis affects 3.8 million people, with resulting fractures accounting for around 2% of total healthcare spending.

The study monitored bone scans of more than 9,000 women over a six-year period in four different US locations, comparing bone loss with the air they breathed. Significantly, the effects of air Pollution on bone loss were seen at concentrations below current limits in the US and Europe and well below the UK government’s proposed limits for 2040. The researchers found that nitrogen oxides, a group of pollutants including nitrogen dioxide, were particularly damaging to bones, especially the lumbar spine.

Although research into the link between air Pollution and bone health is an emerging field, several studies in the UK and China have highlighted the dangers of exposure to air Pollution. A recent UK study identified osteoporosis among the conditions associated with air Pollution, while another linked air Pollution with lower bone density and increased fractures. The findings suggest the need for wider action to reduce air Pollution from diesel vehicles and fossil fuel use to protect public health, says Dr Diddier Prada from the US study team at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

The importance of bone health in older populations cannot be overstated. With life expectancy increasing and birth rates declining, it is essential to identify and eliminate critical factors that affect health during ageing. The study has implications for healthcare systems and the quality of life for many people, as small changes in the progress of osteoporosis or the number of resulting bone fractures could have a significant impact on healthcare costs.

The study shows that air Pollution is accelerating osteoporosis in postmenopausal women, with nitrogen oxides identified as a significant factor. This highlights the need for action to reduce air Pollution, including the adoption of clean energy, more stringent regulations for diesel vehicles, and a move away from fossil fuels. The consequences of failing to take action are clear – an increasing number of fractures, greater costs, and even mortality. As individuals, we can help to reduce air Pollution by walking or cycling instead of driving, and by supporting policies that promote clean energy and sustainable transport.

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