Alcohol and Bone Health

In England, approximately 90% of the adult population drinks alcohol. Whilst many people drink within safe limits, a quarter of adults consume alcohol at levels proven to be harmful to their health. The Government guidelines for low risk or ‘sensible’ drinking are 3-4 units of alcohol per day for men and 2-3 units a day for women. 

Drinking more alcohol than the safe limit can affect your bones and as well as leading to a range of health problems including high blood pressure, depression, stroke, liver disease, neurological, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular conditions, and some cancers. It is also related to accidents and falls as alcohol affects the balance and gait.

How does alcohol affect bone health?

Excessive alcohol interferes with calcium absorption which can lead to lower bone mineral density.  Calcium balance is further disrupted by alcohol’s ability to interfere with the production of vitamin D, a vitamin essential for calcium absorption.  Elevated parathyroid hormone levels (a hormone that increases calcium concentration in the blood, taking it away from the bones) associated with drinking alcohol also reduces the body’s calcium reserves making them less rigid and more prone to breaking.

Chronic heavy drinking can cause hormone deficiencies in men and women. As well as leading to elevated cortisol (it is also often called The Stress Hormone) levels. Cortisol is known to decrease bone formation and increase bone breakdown. 

After considering how alcohol intervenes with bone health as well as with the balance it is needless to say that heavy alcohol consumption has been linked to an increased risk of fracture including hips, vertebra and wrist fractures.

Good news

People who drink high levels of alcohol who subsequently abstain from drinking, tend to have a rapid recovery of osteoblastic (bone-building) activity. Some studies have even found that lost bone can be partially restored when alcohol abuse ends.

If you have been drinking within the safe limits and generally (and genuinely!) do not go over the safe limit, not taking any medications or have any health conditions that may interfere with the effects of alcohol,  then you probably do not need to worry. However if you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis you might want to reconsider how much you drink. The most effective strategy for alcohol-induced bone loss is abstinence.

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