New research has found a surprising link between poor quality social relationships and the presence of bone loss. This finding further emphasizes the importance of relationships — not just to mental and emotional well-being but also to physical health.
The new study — whose findings feature in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, a BMJ publication — suggests that what might make a difference to a person's bone health is the quality, though not the quantity, of their social relationships.
This factor is part of a measurement of "psychosocial stress," which is a form of stress that some people experience as a result of significant life events or having lower levels of optimism, life satisfaction, or education.
"Psychosocial stress may increase fracture risk through degradation of bone mineral density," the researchers write in their study paper. "It alters bone structure and stimulates bone remodeling through dysregulation of hormone secretion, including cortisol, thyroid hormones, growth hormone, and glucocorticoids," they explain.
In the current research, first author Shawna Follis and colleagues have analyzed the health and lifestyle data of 11,020 women aged 50–70 who had enrolled into the Women's Health Initiative (WHI). These participants formed part of a cohort involved in a substudy of WHI that examined data related to bone density. The researchers collected the data at baseline, at the time of enrolment, and once again after 6 years.
The researchers followed the participants for 6 years and found that high levels of psychosocial stress had links with lower bone density. This association persisted even after the team adjusted for confounding factors, including age, education levels, body mass index (BMI), smoking status, and alcohol use, among others.
The most important factor seemed to be social strain, which the researchers measured on a one to five scale with a total possible score of 20 points, in which the higher scores indicated greater social strain. The team found that for each additional point on this scale, the amount of bone loss increased.
While Follis and colleagues caution that their findings are only observations, the study authors argue the importance of not ignoring the link between the quality of social relationships and the presence of bone loss.
Osteoporosis: Does poor social life impact bone health?
By Maria Cohut
Medical News Today