Could your relationships be harming your bone health?

Successive studies have shown that having a good support network around you is essential for our overall wellbeing and may also have an impact on various health outcomes.

And now new research has revealed that lacking these positive relationships can have an adverse effect on one key health marker in particular — bone health.

Published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, researchers at the University of Arizona in Tucson analysed data from 11,000 post-menopausal women in the United States who had enrolled into the Women’s Health Initiative(WHI) — a long-term study whose aim is to identify preventive strategies for conditions breast cancer, and osteoporosis in women.

Data was collected at the time of enrolment and again, after six years with participants asked to complete a questionnaire relating to psychosocial stress as it connects to the three areas below:

  • social strain, referring to poor quality of social relationships
  • social support, referring to good quality social relationships
  • social functioning, which measures levels of social activity

It found an association between lower bone mineral density in the hip and lower back and higher levels of these ‘psychosocial stresses’, even when adjusting for confounding factors, including age, education levels, body mass index (BMI), smoking status, and alcohol intake.

These ‘psychosocial stresses’ were ranked on a scale from 4 to 20, where higher scores indicated more strain.

For every additional point on this scale, there was a 0.11 per cent loss of total hipbone density (0.08 per cent in the ball and socket joint) and a 0.07 per cent loss in lower back density.

MORE: Everything you need to know about osteoporosis

While the study couldn’t prove that social strain and connections led to bone loss, it did reveal a strong relationship.

“Psychosocial stress may increase fracture risk through degradation of bone mineral density,” the researchers write in their study paper.

Continuing, they add, “It alters bone structure and stimulates bone remodeling through dysregulation of hormone secretion, including cortisol, thyroid hormones, growth hormone, and glucocorticoids.”

In the UK osteoporosis – a health condition that can weaken bones – affects more than 3 million people, according to the NHS, with causes including everything from not exercising regularly to long-term use of certain medicines.

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