In the present study, researchers suggested as if older women didn't already worry enough about their bone health, that anxiety may up their risk for fractures
Based on an analysis involving almost 200 postmenopausal Italian women, the finding builds upon previous research linking anxiety to a higher risk for heart disease and gastrointestinal problems.
"Our findings are quite surprising because an association between anxiety levels and bone health was not reported before," said study author Dr. Antonino Catalano, though the study did not prove that anxiety caused fracture risk to rise.
Catalano is an expert in internal medicine, bone metabolism and osteoporosis with the department of clinical and experimental medicine at the University Hospital of Messina in Italy.
"Our opinion is that anxious women are more likely to engage in poor health behaviors, such as smoking or a poor diet," he said. "Moreover, the negative effects of stress hormones on bone status may be considered as also enhancing fracture risk."
Catalano added that women who struggle with higher levels of anxiety were also found to have lower levels of vitamin D. "Poor vitamin D status has been previously associated with increased fracture risk," he said.
The researchers noted that osteoporosis is the most common metabolic bone disease in the world. An estimated 35% of women and 20% of men will suffer from an osteoporosis-related fracture at some point in their lives.
The research team also noted that 7 percent of the world's population suffers from anxiety disorders. To see how the two issues might intersect, the researchers focused on patients attending one Italian osteoporosis clinic in 2017.
On average, participants were nearly 68 years old. All underwent in-depth health screenings to assess, among other things, prior fracture history, arthritis diagnoses, heart and lung health, and smoking and alcohol habits. Bone mineral density exams were also done.
Mental health concerns
A wide range of mental health concerns was also explored, including depression, tension, insomnia, memory and anxiety levels ranging from moderate to severe.
Higher anxiety was linked to a 4% greater risk for a major fracture over a 10-year period, and a 3 percent greater risk for a hip fracture in the same time frame, said Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, executive director of the North American Menopause Society.
Higher anxiety was also linked to lower bone mineral density scores in both the lower back area (known as the lumbar spine) and in the femoral neck area (just below the ball of the hip joint).
"Women reach peak bone mass around age 35," Pinkerton noted. "So it becomes important for perimenopausal women and menopausal women to get adequate amounts of calcium." Experts recommend 1,200 milligrams a day, between diet and supplements, she said.
For women particularly concerned about anxiety, she suggested turning to "mindfulness, cognitive therapy, self-calming strategies, yoga, or seeking help through counseling or, if needed, medications," she said.
As for hormone therapy, Pinkerton stressed that while it's not a treatment for depression or anxiety, "it can sometimes be helpful in women, and is sometimes used alone or in combination, depending on whether women have menopausal symptoms or respond favorably to a trial of hormone therapy."