Researchers Find Link Between Poor Social Bonds and Bone Density

New research has unveiled a surprising link between social life and bone health. The research highlights the importance of relationships not only in terms of emotional and mental health but physical health too.

As per the statistics of National Institutes of Health (NIH), 53 million people in America are at a greater risk of bone fractures associated with osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a health condition which is mainly found in older women who have passed their menopause stage. Women are at a greater risk than men by 4 times.

This is the reason why researchers were eager to work on it and find all the possible risk factors associated with bone loss.

Researchers from the University of Arizona in Tucson find an interesting relation between the rate of bone loss and the social ties a person has. The findings of the research paper “Psychosocial stress and bone loss among postmenopausal women: results from the Women’s Health Initiative” is published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health (BMJ publication).

The study shows that the amount of bone loss does not depend on the number of social bonds but rely on the quality of social relationships a person has. It is related to the amount of “psychological stress” through which a person goes by due to a series of events which involves lower levels of education, optimism, and life satisfaction.

Researchers say that “Psychosocial stress may increase fracture risk through degradation of bone mineral density,” the researchers write in their study paper. “It alters the bone structure and stimulates bone remodeling through dysregulation of hormone secretion, including cortisol, thyroid hormones, growth hormone, and glucocorticoids.”

There are very few researchers who have worked on the link between bone loss and psychological stress; the findings of those studies have also been mixed.

Shawna Follis and his team studied the lifestyle and health-related data of 11,020 women from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI). All the women aged 50 to 70. The WHI is a large study who is working on the precautionary measures of health conditions like breast cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis.

The participants of this study were involved in the examination of bone density in WHI. Researchers noted the bone density initially, at the start of the examination and after six years of the enrollment.

At their initial stage, they were asked to fill a questionnaire in which they were asked about their strength of psychosocial stress. After following up the participants for 6 years, researchers found that a high level of social stress was linked to low levels of bone density.

The relation remained intact even after considering the other factors which include age, body mass index (BMI), education status, usage of alcohol and smoking.

The researchers also observed that people who were exposed to greater social stress were more overweight than others. The author says, “We identified specific psychosocial stressors pertaining to the social environment that was associated with bone loss.”

A greater loss of bone density was observed in the lumbar spine and femoral neck. The research advises older women to have better social relations. When the researchers measure the most contributing factor (social strain) on a scale of 1 to 5, they saw that with every increase in number, bone density decreased.

With every additional point, a 0.082% bone loss was observed in femoral neck bone. While 0.108% was found in the hip region and 0.069% in the lumbar spine. “The results support community-building social stress interventions in postmenopausal women to potentially limit bone loss.”

Adeena Tariq

Adeena's professional life has been mostly in hospital management, while studying international business in college. Of course, she now covers topics for us in health.

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