Doctors say they are increasingly seeing relatively younger men and women report with brittle bones, and highly stressful urban lifestyles may be a factor behind this trend
We have all been told time and again that excessive stress in life can result in health disorders such as hypertension and even cardiovascular disease. But, not much is talked about the negative impact of chronic stress on bone health and that stress-induced osteoporosis is a new emerging reality.
Suhasini (name changed) realized it the hard way when at 42 years of age she suffered a fracture of the arm, caused by a minor collapse. Medical investigations revealed she was suffering from osteoporosis and even though she was yet to reach menopause, her bones resembled that of a 60 year old woman.
For almost 20 years, Suhasini has been living a highly stressful daily life experiencing the ‘dual role’ pressure most urban women are facing today, balancing highly demanding work life with equally demanding needs of the family. Sleep deprivation, lack of rest, persistently raised stress levels and a perpetual fight against time were normal characteristics of her life.
“While some level of stress is normal, when stress becomes chronic and persistently high, it acts on the body and mind in a number of ways. In recent years research has shown that chronic stress accelerates bone loss, a phenomenon described as stress-induced osteoporosis. Firstly, when stress is high, body releases hormone cortisol as a coping mechanism.
However, if there are persistently elevated levels of cortisol in our body, it interferes with bone building. In fact, the body releases calcium from the bones to neutralize the ph balance of cortisol. Secondly, when in high stress, a person tends to forego healthy eating habits, loses sleep and gives up exercise. These factors contribute in secondary ways to cause bone loss,” says Dr Rajeev K Sharma, Senior Consultant, Orthopedic & Joint Replacement Surgeon, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, New Delhi.
Dr Sharma says he sees several factors behind increasing number of osteopenia or osteoporosis cases in younger women and men. Among them, low physical activity urban lifestyles, and increasing levels of stress are leading factors.
Stress can be characterized as the body’s method of responding to outside pressures and demands. On one hand, stress can improve your focus and make the senses sharper. However, on the other hand, overload of stress can lead to various problems like heart diseases, depression, digestive problems and bone loss. During high stress the human body breaks down amino acids via the process of gluconeogenesis. Cortisol here acts as the major stress hormone which catalyzes this process. Stress, anxiety, depression are factors that disturb the body’s internal balance and contribute to bone loss.
“This impact of high stress is especially more pronounced in urban working women who deal with dual pressure of work and home. Unfortunately in India, we are yet to see greater responsibility sharing from male spouses in the household and this compounds the pressure on the woman. The case of Suhasini mentioned above was a trademark example of this,” adds Dr Sharma.
With long working hours, stretched travel timings, deadline centric working styles, stress of urban life cannot be done away with. However, measures can be taken to manage stress and make sure it doesn’t turn chronic and play havoc with your lives.
“Exercising, walking, yoga or meditations are very good ways of relieving stress. At the same time these measures also fulfil your need for daily physical activity. Another important issue is that we should not ignore our nutritional needs and ensure a regular intake of calcium in our diets through dairy products. After 35 years of age, it is advisable to see a doctor and have your bone density checked to know if you need any remedial measures like calcium supplements,” says Dr Sharma.