Marriage is good for the health of some men’s bones, according to the first study to link marital history and quality of marriage to bone health.
Men who married when they were older than 25 years had greater bone strength than men who married when they were younger. In addition, men in stable marriages or marriage-like relationships who had never previously divorced or separated had stronger bones than men whose previous marriages had failed. Men in stable relationships also had better bone health than men who had never married.
“There is very little known about the influence of social factors, other than socioeconomic factors, on bone health,” said Carolyn Crandall, MD, Professor of Medicine in the Division of General Internal Medicine and Health Services Research at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles.
“Good health depends on good behaviors, such as maintaining a healthy diet and not smoking, but also on other social aspects of life, such as marital life stories and quality of relationships,” she noted.
The researchers used data from 632 adult participants, about half of them men, in the Midlife in the United States Study to examine associations between marital history and bone mineral density. They also took into consideration other factors that influence bone health, such as medications, health behaviors, and menopause.
The associations between marriage and bone health were evident in the spine but not the hip, possibly because of differences in bone composition, Dr Crandall said. She noted that the study did not include longitudinal assessments of bone density, and therefore the findings only suggest a correlation, not cause and effect.
It’s possible that very early marriage may be detrimental to a man’s bone health because of the stresses of having to provide for a family.
“Men who marry before age 25 may be less educated and have more trouble making ends meet than men over age 25, who may have already been working for a few years. So it may be that marriage is more stressful for younger men than those who marry later in life,” Dr Crandall told ConsultantLive.
Dr Crandall noted that “stressful environments are believed to activate several physiological systems, such as the sympathetic nervous system, inflammation, and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Although previous studies have not examined marital histories in relation to bone health, overactivation of those physiological systems is believed to be harmful to bone health.” The next phase of research will examine the biological pathways that may connect bone health and marriage.
“It’s premature to suggest doing more frequent or earlier bone density tests in men solely due to their being previously divorced, widowed, or separated, or solely due to their never having been married,” said Dr Crandall. She suggests that “physicians should probably be extra vigilant about following current osteoporosis screening guidelines and encourage healthy bone behaviors, such as optimal calcium and vitamin D intake, plenty of weight-bearing activity, such as walking, and avoidance of smoking and excessive alcohol.”
The researchers published their results in the January 2014 issue of Osteoporosis International.