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Alcohol and Osteoporosis

Alcoholism and Recovery

According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), nearly 14 million Americans - or 1 in 13 adults - abuse alcohol or are alcoholic. Alcoholism is a disease characterized by a dependency on alcohol. Since alcohol affects almost every organ in the body, chronic heavy drinking is associated with many serious health problems, including pancreatitis, liver disease, heart disease, cancer, and osteoporosis. In fact, the NIAAA estimates that the economic costs of alcohol abuse approach $185 billion per year.

Maintaining sobriety is undoubtedly the most important health goal for an individual recovering from alcoholism. However, attention to other aspects of health, including bone health, can help increase the likelihood of a healthy future, free from the devastating consequences of osteoporosis and fracture.

Facts About Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a condition in which bones become less dense and more likely to fracture. Fractures from osteoporosis can result in significant pain and disability. It is a major health threat for an estimated 44 million American men and women.

Risk factors for developing osteoporosis include:

  • being thin or having a small frame
  • having a family history of the disease
  • for women, being postmenopausal, having an early menopause, or not having menstrual periods (amenorrhea)
  • using certain medications, such as glucocorticoids
  • not getting enough calcium
  • not getting enough physical activity
  • smoking
  • drinking too much alcohol.

Osteoporosis is a silent disease that can often be prevented. However, if undetected, it can progress for many years without symptoms until a fracture occurs. It has been called “a pediatric disease with geriatric consequences,” because building healthy bones in one’s youth is important to help prevent osteoporosis and fractures later in life.

The Alcohol - Osteoporosis Link

Alcohol negatively impacts bone health for several reasons. To begin with, excessive alcohol interferes with the balance of calcium, an essential nutrient for healthy bones. It also increases parathyroid hormone (PTH) levels, which in turn reduce the body’s calcium reserves. Calcium balance is further disrupted by alcohol’s ability to interfere with the production of , a vitamin essential for calcium absorption.

In addition, chronic heavy drinking can cause hormone deficiencies in men and women. Men with alcoholism tend to produce less testosterone, a hormone linked to the production of osteoblasts (the cells that stimulate bone formation). In women, chronic alcohol exposure often produces irregular menstrual cycles, a factor that reduces estrogen levels, increasing osteoporosis risk. Also, cortisol levels tend to be elevated in people with alcoholism. Cortisol is known to decrease bone formation and increase bone breakdown.

Due to the effects of alcohol on balance and gait, people with alcoholism tend to fall more frequently than those without the disorder. Heavy alcohol consumption has been linked to an increase in the risk of fracture, including the most serious kind: hip fracture. Vertebral fractures are also more common in those who abuse alcohol.

WebMD Public Information from the U.S. National Institutes of Health

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