Drink Less for Strong Bones

November 12, 2012

Drink Less for Strong Bones

Most people are aware that heavy drinking is a health issue and also has a negative affect on the liver and other internal organs, but not so many people are aware that too much alcohol also acts negatively on your bones. This is especially true if you are a heavy drinker as an adolescent or young adult. Research has shown that the risk of osteoporosis in later life is increased and the health of the bones decreases.

The advice to heavy drinkers is always to stop, or at least cut back. Primal Kaur, MD, is an osteoporosis specialist at Temple University Health System in Philadelphia. He explains that alcohol is detrimental to healthy bones and their development. This is because bones need calcium for healthy development but Kaur says, “alcohol is its enemy”. He says that this is because, “Alcohol has multiple effects on calcium. The bones deteriorate because not enough calcium is getting into bones — and the body is leaching it away from bones”.

Alcohol and Bones – What’s the connection?

The stomach cannot absorb calcium efficiently if too much alcohol is in the body too, this means 2 to 3 ounces per day. Kaur explains the technical details, “Alcohol interferes with the pancreas and its absorption of calcium and vitamin D. Alcohol also affects the liver, which is important for activating vitamin D — which is also important for calcium absorption”.

Too much alcohol also badly affects the hormones dealing with bone health too. Some research indicates that estrogen in the body decreases. In women this can lead to irregular periods. A body lacking in estrogen cannot remodel bones and slowly bone loss occurs. Women who are menopausal lose bone naturally and this adds to the process, according to experts.

As well as losing good hormones for bones, alcohol also causes an increase in the level of two hormones which can damage bones. Cortisol and parathyroid both have negative effects, cortisol can cause bone breakdown and slow down the formation of bone. Whereas it has been seen in alcoholics that parathyroid draws calcium away from bones.

Kaur also tells us that osteoblasts, which are the bone making cells are killed whenever the body is subjected to excess alcohol. Because excessive alcohol consumption is a general health problem other deficiencies can be seen. Alcohol abuse can cause peripheral neuropathy to develop, that is where the hands and feet suffer nerve damage. Balance can also be affected leading to accidental injury.

Drinkers are more likely to fracture a bone

Alcoholics and heavy drinkers have an increased risk of fracture because their bones are brittle and they may have damaged nerves. The common fractures are hip and spine, and any recovery will be slow because of the condition of the body. It is common to be malnourished in these cases, according to Kaur.

The good news is that when someone stops drinking then their bones start to recover quite quickly. Research has found that on cessation of drinking lost bone can be restored, at least to a degree.

Smoking also has a negative affect on bones, and if you are going to stop drinking then you should quit smoking too. Kaur tells us that, “If you are a heavy drinker who also smokes, it makes your bone problems even worse. You need to quit both habits, or osteoporosis treatment is not going to work.”

This does not need to make the task twice as difficult because there is some research which indicates that you may be more successful stopping drinking if you stop smoking too.

Strong bones means less alcohol

It sometimes seems that every social event revolves around alcohol. A quick one on the way home from work, a family gathering may have food but will also have alcohol, as will barbeques. But you don’t have to take an alcoholic drink, there are other options. Saying no, to many people just won’t work. But take a soft drink, or have a smaller glass of something weaker than your usual. There are many things to try, just keep looking until you find an option that suits you.

Not many people consciously think “I want strong bones”, certainly not when they are going to a social event. But by regulating your intake of alcohol that is what you are getting.

Murray Dabby, LCSW, is the director of the Atlanta Center for Social Therapy, and he understands the pressures of trying to give up something. He says, “It’s difficult to deny yourself. Therefore, you have to find something to say ‘yes’ to. … That’s the more winning strategy.”

He points out that focusing on your issue is not helpful. He says that you should not be thinking about stopping smoking or drinking. You should be looking to changing to a healthy lifestyle.

Dabby is a coach and therapist, and his role is to get people to comprehend the association between the person and alcohol. He goes on to say of the connection, “That relationship says a lot about how you see yourself — ‘I’m socially awkward, I’m shy, I’m anxious, I’m insecure, and alcohol makes me feel more comfortable’”.

He has some strategies which can be used to overcome certain feelings which alcohol can inhibit. For example if you are shy then he suggests, “As Shakespeare would say, ‘Life is a stage. Create a new performance for yourself. Act like the person you want to be”. His strategies are all positive. He says that if you are self conscious at parties then “Act like you are the co-host”. Mingle and ask about the other guests, help them to become relaxed and forget about your own feelings.

Dabby has another approach, just act as if you are a little drunk. If you feel that you want to go somewhere but must have a drink to enjoy the experience then pretend. Dabby tells the story, “Order ginger ale, but act like you’re tipsy. That’s the approach that one person took. It was very successful for him. He found he could ham it up without alcohol”.

In other gatherings where ‘hamming it up’ might not be the answer then work at other things and avoid focusing on alcohol. When you do have a drink then have a dry ginger or any other soft drink. If anyone asks you can always pass it off as an alcoholic drink. As Dabby says, “You don’t have to tell anyone you have trouble with alcohol.” Asking questions and finding out about other guests or colleagues is a good way to avoid thinking about drinking, according to Dabby.


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