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"Effects of Alcohol on Bone Health: Understanding the Link to Osteoporosis"

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

Did you know that your daily can of beer or glass of wine could silently be chipping away at your bone health over the years? While we're all aware of the risks associated with heavy drinking, the potential ramifications of moderate alcohol consumption – a few glasses of wine a week or a couple of shots at the weekend – often go unnoticed.

Many of us shrug off these seemingly insignificant indulgences as harmless, believing that as long as we're not addicted, we're safe. Unfortunately, scientific research paints a different picture, particularly when it comes to bone health.

Osteoporosis, characterised by a premature decrease in bone mineral density, is a leading cause of permanent disability among the elderly. This condition doesn't strike overnight but gradually creeps in over decades, influenced significantly by our lifestyle choices. Among factors like sedentary living, low body weight, and smoking, regular alcohol intake has emerged as a potent risk factor for osteoporosis.


How does alcohol affect our bones?

People who consume alcohol regularly, even moderately, are at a significantly higher risk of fractures, especially hip fractures, which are challenging to treat and often fatal due to prolonged hospitalisation. A comprehensive 2022 review involving data from 47,000 individuals found that moderate daily alcohol consumption significantly escalates the risk of premature bone loss.


Surprisingly, consuming just three units of alcohol per day (equivalent to three 330ml cans of beer or three 25ml shots of medium-volume spirit) can increase the risk of a disabling fracture by 33% after the age of 65. While three units a day might sound excessive, factor in the 15-20 units from a weekend binge-drinking session, and the total quickly becomes neither low nor safe.

Did you know?

The exact impact of alcohol on bone health is not entirely understood. However, it's believed that alcohol interferes with the body's natural bone remodelling process, leaving damage unrepaired. It may also disrupt the metabolism of vitamin D and parathyroid hormone, both crucial for bone repair and maintenance.

To younger individuals, these risks may seem distant and abstract. But remember, youth is fleeting, and bone loss is an ongoing process that could begin as early as 25. The goal isn't to prevent bone loss entirely – an impossible feat – but to slow it down, preventing the rapid deterioration that can lead to catastrophic events.

Even seemingly benign amounts of alcohol can contribute to early-onset osteoporosis and disability over a lifetime. An honest assessment of one's alcohol consumption, perhaps with the help of a unit calculator like AlcoholChange, can shed light on this often-overlooked issue.

Awareness is the first step towards change. Consider the numerous benefits of reducing alcohol consumption: increased energy, improved sleep, heightened motivation, clearer cognition, and enhanced libido. Not to mention, you're safeguarding yourself from debilitating conditions like osteoporosis and dementia.

So, if preserving mobility doesn't convince you to reconsider your drinking habits, perhaps the thought of maintaining your memory and identity will.


It's time to reassess our relationship with alcohol for our bones and our health.

 

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References

Chakkalakal DA. Alcohol-induced bone loss and deficient bone repair. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2005;29(12):2077-2090


Godos J, Giampieri F, Chisari E, et al. Alcohol Consumption, Bone Mineral Density, and Risk of Osteoporotic Fractures: A Dose-Response Meta-Analysis. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022;19(3):1515.


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