Heavy alcohol consumption can fast-track osteoporosis onset

While light alcohol consumption does not harm bone health, multiple studies have shown that heavy drinking can drastically interfere with bone turnover and accelerate the onset of osteoporosis.

The most recent such report appeared in the journal Osteoporosis International. In it, a team of French bone imaging experts and sports medicine specialists reviewed the ways in which heavy alcohol use can take its toll on skeletal health.

Researchers emphasized that much remains to be understood about the interactions between alcohol and bone tissue. As an illustration, they pointed to several previous studies linking light drinking to improvements in bone density.

Such findings are ambiguous, to say the least, the group emphasized. Why? Besides the lack of evidence that alcohol directly contributes to bone strength, there is also general disagreement between such studies as the what constitutes "light" drinking.

The authors of the new review noted that when studies address "moderate" drinking, the findings become even more contradictory, with some research teams reporting skeletal health improvements and others detecting bone damage.

However, the ambiguity disappears when scientists analyze the effects of "excessive" or "acute" alcohol abuse on bone density. The former term indicates a drinking habit that exceeds 28 drinks per week, while the latter signifies approximately double that.

Researchers stated that heavy alcohol use wreaks havoc on bone tissue.

Specifically, individuals who regularly drink to excess can increase their risk of hip fracture, lower their bone mass density, cause bone mineral-producing osteocytes to undergo apoptosis (that is, cell death) and reduce the thickness and strength of many load-bearing bones.

Furthermore, heavy alcohol use can indirectly harm skeletal health by affecting the body's hormone levels. The team pointed to testosterone, thyroid hormone, cortisol, calcitonin and a number of signalling molecules whose natural levels can be skewed by chronic drinking.

In order to establish a standard for healthy alcohol use, the authors quoted a figure for a reasonable daily number of drinks.

"As a public health message, the dose that should serve as a limit for bone health is one glass per day for women and two for men. More than two glasses per day may induce the negative effects of alcohol on bone tissue," the team concluded.

The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends consuming no more than two or three drinks per day.