Stress Can Hurt Your Bones Too


Anxiety, fatigue and loneliness, all synonymous with modern living, can lower bone mineral density

If you thought you’d heard of all kinds of health problems that stress can cause, there’s more. Stress — anything that surfaces in the form of frustration, anger, anxiety or depression — can be terrible for your bones too. And there’s more to the dilemma of your weakening bone than offsetting it by simply increasing your calcium supplements.

The cortisol catch

Repeated studies have pointed at how stress adversely affects bone mineral density, which is the amount of mineral matter per square centimetre of bones. Dr Pradeep Bhonsle, Head of Orthopaedics at KEM Hospital, says stress plays a critical role in slowly, but steadily, bringing about the onset of osteoporosis. When your bone tissue is constantly remodelled within the body, the show is run by two cell types: osteoblasts that help in depositing new bone tissue and osteoclasts that break down old bone tissue. Dr Bhonsle says, “Your bone density is determined by the rate at which these cells work. Under stress, our adrenal glands increase the production of cortisol. Cortisol, known as the ‘stress hormone’ as it’s released by the body in response to stress, can decrease bone density by inhibiting the bone-building osteoblasts.” With decreased osteoblast activity, the body ends up with more broken down bone tissue than deposited, causing low bone density and eventually osteoporosis. Interestingly, America which figures among the countries with the highest calcium intake, also has one of the highest rates of osteoporosis. The solution, health experts say, doesn’t lie in getting more calcium, but excreting less of it. When you face stress, you lose calcium through urine. Dr Bhonsle adds, “More cortisol leads to a dip in calcium absorption and a spike in its excretion.”

Acid attack

Needless to say, the phosphoric acid in your cola acts as a corrosive agent and is a key cause of calcium and mineral loss from bones and teeth. Dr Bhonsle points out that stress effects a similar reaction and result. “Stress causes acidity which impedes optimal digestion of food. This acidity also hampers mineral metabolism which is vital for bone health. In fact, without proper absorption of these minerals, even a very nutritious diet is of no use to your bones,” he says.

Depression alert

Studies have also found that people suffering from depression have a lower bone density, making their bones more brittle than others. When in depression, the brain uses the sympathetic nervous system (which responds to impending danger or stress) to boost the secretion of noradrenalin within the bone, a chemical which obstructs osteoblasts. Depression, researchers say, mimics the effect of stress.

Be food wise

Constant stress and the general feeling of being low makes people seek comfort in junk foods which aren’t rich in calcium, magnesium and other essential nutrients that help prevent osteoporosis. “Such wrong food choices translate into inadequate bone nutrition. Besides, the erratic timing of meals and multitasking like texting or working while eating seriously hinders optimum digestion. Of course, a regular intake of vitamin D3, obtained from the morning sun, is important as it helps in the utilisation of minerals in the bones. The solution to this problem is largely a lifestyle overhaul.”

What is osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a disease in which bones become thinner, fragile and susceptible to fracture. Existing bone is constantly being replaced by new bone. In osteoporosis, the body fails to form enough new bone or too much existing bone is reabsorbed by the body, or both. While the risk factors for this condition include, aging, low body weight, being female, low sex hormones like during menopause, alcoholism and smoking, people usually discover it only when they fracture a bone. It can be prevented and treated by increasing the intake of calcium and vitamin D. Due to osteoporosis, about half of all women over the age of 50 will suffer from a fracture of the hip, wrist, or vertebra (bone of the spine) during their lifetime.