Wednesday, March 8th 2006
BONE loss is one of the less well-known effects of heavy drinking, but recent research has illuminated how alcohol takes a toll on the bones.
In a review of cell, animal and human studies, Dr Dennis A Chakkalakal of the Omaha VA Medical Centre in Nebraska describes how heavy drinking leads to bone loss, higher risk of fractures and slower healing of bone breaks.
The main problem appears to be that alcohol inhibits the normal formation of new bone, Chakkalakal reports in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
Though excessive drinking has been shown to promote bone thinning and fractures, some studies have suggested that moderate drinking may actually help protect bone mass, possibly because small amounts of alcohol promote new bone formation.
However, the opposite appears true of high amounts of alcohol, according to Chakkalakal's review.
Bone undergoes a process of "remodelling" whereby some cells break down small portions of old bone while others form new bone.
Too much alcohol, however, appears to inhibit the bone-forming cells from doing their job, and heavy drinkers may start to lose bone mass in just a few years, according to Chakkalakal. The potential for bone loss climbs in tandem which drinking, evidence shows, but it's not clear where the risk threshold lies.
Most studies on alcohol and bone loss have defined "heavy" drinking as roughly six or more drinks per day. But, the review points out, there's evidence bone loss is a risk for people who have closer to three or more drinks a day.
"The review," said Terrence M Donohue jnr, also of the Omaha VA Medical Centre, "underscores the importance of abstinence from alcohol consumption by patients - alcoholics or teetotallers - with fractures and who may want to drink during their convalescence."
Source New Zealand Herald, 31 December 2005
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