Alcohol Abuse Cuts to the Bone
Bone is living tissue. That means that even when we have reached maturity and have stopped gaining height, our bones continue to grow. Consumed over a long period of time, alcohol can impair ongoing bone growth and development. Alcohol causes damage to the hormones and cells that contribute significantly to bone health. Alcohol does this by lowering bone density, and less dense bones are more likely to break.
Bone is constructed of dense outer fibers known as cortical bone. Within the cortical bone is a filigree of fibers known as cancellous bone. Cancellous bone is the part of the bone that determines density. Less dense bones are not only at a greater risk for fracture, they are also vulnerable to osteoporosis. Osteoporosis can lead to serious pain, and, in some cases, disability. Guarding bone health in youth can prevent osteoporosis, but consuming large amounts of alcohol can likewise lead to early-onset osteoporosis.
Bones provide structure, stability and support to the body. They also serve as repositories for calcium. Calcium is metabolized through the bone and into the bloodstream where it aids muscles and nerves. Alcohol interferes with the normal metabolism of calcium. In addition, alcohol inhibits the body’s ability to produce vitamin D. Without enough vitamin D, the body is unable to properly absorb calcium.
Heavy alcohol consumption also lowers the normal production of male and female hormones. In men, lower testosterone levels mean that bone formation suffers. In women, drinking can lead to irregular menstruation and low estrogen - again putting them at risk for osteoporosis. Thus alcohol makes bones less dense and more apt to break at the same time that drinking makes a person much more likely to take a fall.
It is believed that many of the deprivations brought on by alcoholism can be reversed with time and good nutrition. Bone health can be restored by abstaining from alcohol, eating foods rich in vitamin D and taking a calcium supplement. Bones are also made stronger through use, so regular exercise benefits bone health as well.