New US research has found that psychosocial stress, which is the emotional and physiological reactions experienced when in a stressful situation, appears to be associated with lower bone mineral density (BMD) in postmenopausal women.
Carried out by researchers at the University of Arizona and the University of California San Diego Los Angeles and the University of California, USA, along with Umm Al-Qura University, Saudi Arabia, the new study looked at data gathered from 11,020 postmenopausal American women aged 50 to 79 years of age.
At the start of the study, the researchers collected data on the women’s bone mineral density and asked the women to complete a questionnaire on psychosocial stress related to their social strain (which measures negative social interactions), social support (which measures positive relationships), and social functioning (which measures limitations in social activity).
These three measures of psychosocial stress and the women’s bone density were also measured again at a follow-up visit six years later.
The findings, published online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, showed that after taking into account potential influencing factors such as age, weight (BMI), smoking status, alcohol use, hormone therapy use, age at menopause, and physical activity, a high level of social stress was associated with lower BMD over the six-year study period.
The team also found that higher social strain was associated with greater BMD loss of the total hip, lumbar spine (lower back) and femoral neck (the area just below the ball of the ball-and-socket hip joint), while social functioning stress was associated with greater bone loss at the total hip and femoral neck, suggesting that poor-quality social relationships could be associated with low BMD.
The authors suggested that psychosocial stress may alter BMD through changing hormone levels, including cortisol, thyroid hormones, growth hormone and glucocorticoids, and therefore reducing this stress and the strain of negative relationships could also reduce bone loss and reduce fractures.
Previous research has already suggested that psychosocial stress may be associated with fractures, however, few studies have investigated the link between psychosocial stress and BMD.
Commenting on the findings, the authors said, “We identified specific psychosocial stressors pertaining to the social environment that were associated with bone loss.”
“We found that bone loss is among the physiological stress responses more strongly related to the quality of social relationships than quantity,” adding that, “the results support community-building social stress interventions in postmenopausal women to potentially limit bone loss.”