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Poor social life linked to bone loss in postmenopausal women

Negative friendships and social relationships have been linked to bone loss in postmenopausal women in a new study.

Research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health has found that poor-quality social relationships which cause psychological stress could be associated with an increased risk of fractures and loss of bone mineral density (BMD) in postmenopausal women.

Previous studies have noted the impact of psychological stress on health, particularly mental health and overall life satisfaction.

A loss of BMD can put women at greater risk of osteoporosis, meaning that bones are less dense and more prone to fracture. Women lose BMD more quickly than men, especially after the menopause. Osteoporosis affects around two million women in the UK. Over a third of women will have at least one fracture as a result of osteoporosis in their lifetime.

Negative social interactions like poor friendships and relationships all contribute to social stress. The authors of the study suggest that this stress could affect BMD through changes in hormone levels, especially stress and growth hormones.

They collected data from over 11,000 women aged 50-79 who had gone through the menopause from a long-term women's health study in the USA. After six years, they asked women to score their social strain on a scale up to 20, with higher scores showing more strain. For each additional point on the scale, there was a 0.1% greater loss in hip BMD, 0.082% loss in BMD just below the hip joint (femoral neck) and just under 0.07% loss in the lower back.

The researchers encourage a greater effort to promote healthy social interactions for older women.

"The results support community-building social stress interventions in postmenopausal women to potentially limit bone loss," they said. Their findings highlight that it's not the number of friends which matters for bone density, but the overall social satisfaction felt by the woman. "We found that bone loss is among the physiological stress responses more strongly related to the quality of social relationships than quantity," they conclude.

The research was published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 

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