Alcohol and Osteoporosis: Is there a link?

Alcohol and osteoporosis. Example of responsible wine consumption

Some things in life just seem to be meant for each other. For example, the makers of Reese’s peanut butter cups have been telling us through countless television advertisement campaigns that peanut butter and chocolate are perhaps the greatest combination in the history of the world. Honestly, they have a pretty strong argument.  But alcohol and osteoporosis, not so much.

Alcohol is an item that just doesn’t mix well with a lot of things, like driving a vehicle or operating heavy machinery. Research has also shown alcohol to negatively affect several health conditions. Many seniors who enjoy the occasional libation want to know if they’re risking the onset or worsening of a common problem in their age group known as osteoporosis, or the weakening of their bones.  What is the link between alcohol and osteoporosis?

Forget the Fiction. Here Are the Sobering Facts.

Fact: As we get older, our bones become thinner and much less dense than the bones of younger individuals. This is called osteoporosis, which creates an increased susceptibility for fracture. Exacerbating this reality is the pain and limited mobility associated with broken bones, as well as the increased healing time for older individuals.

Fact: As we get older, our ability to process alcohol also weakens. Some seniors report that their nightly drink that they tolerated for so many years without any noticeable effects all of a sudden makes them feel a bit tipsy, resulting in a loss of balance. This loss of balance is particularly troublesome for the elderly; if they fall from the ill effects of alcohol consumption, their weakened bones could easily fracture.

Additionally, alcohol negatively impacts bone health on its own, because it interferes with the production of Vitamin D and the absorption of calcium. Both of those nutrients are critical factors in producing strong bones and enabling proper healing.

In This Case, the More Is Not the Merrier

Most research indicates that a glass or two of wine per day won’t cause problems with bone density. Chronic heavy drinking, however, can cause or aggravate problems related to osteoporosis. One reason is that higher levels of alcohol consumption have been proven to cause hormone deficiencies.  So alcohol consumption and osteoporosis are directly related in some circumstances.

In men, heavy drinking can depress testosterone production, which is a key contributor to the production of osteoblasts. These are the cells critical to the formation of strong bones. In women, heavy drinking can depress estrogen production, which is equally critical to strengthening the skeletal system.

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For both genders, the more alcohol someone consumes, the more cortisol they produce. Cortisol is a steroid produced by the adrenal gland that works great for increasing your body’s ability to react to stress, while also raising your metabolism. The unfortunate downside of cortisol is decreased bone formation.  So you should carefully consider the role of alcohol and osteoporosis causes together.

Exceptions to the Rule

Chronic or heavy drinking is generally a bad idea, no matter what type of alcohol is being consumed. However, beer has been shown to contain high amounts of silicon, which has been linked to stronger hip bones. The hip is a particular area of concern for fracture among seniors because of its fragility and lengthy recovery time to heal properly. Of course, this should never serve as a prescription for people to consume too much beer, which can have severe health consequences unrelated to osteoporosis.

Similarly, although the cause is still unknown, a recent study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that post-menopausal women who drink one to two glasses of wine per day had stronger bones in the spine and hip. Just like men shouldn’t consume too much beer for obvious reasons, however, women should heed the same advice related to wine consumption.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, it appears that there is only a link between heavy alcohol consumption and osteoporosis. Mild to moderate drinking should not create problems with bone density. The sweet spot to a happy/healthy life is still to consult with your doctor, enjoy alcohol responsibly, eat a balanced diet, and get plenty of exercise no matter what age you are. Always remember, you get to control what goes into your body and how you live your life!

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