Alcohol: Bad News for Young People, Better for Seniors

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Alcohol.

    Is it bad for you? Not so bad? Or does drinking actually show a potential health benefit?

    First, the bad news.

    If you spent your wild youth pursuing a lifestyle that included regular heavy drinking, you probably did irreversible damage to your bones. And you’re now at increased risk for osteoporosis due to those youthful transgressions.

    Now, the better news.

    If you’re an adult who enjoys the occasional drink; or even a daily drink, you’re probably not hurting your bones. And you may even be helping them.

    But before you breathe a sigh of satisfaction and settle back with a bottle of wine or a six-pack – read on.

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    Let’s start with heavy drinking as a teenager and young adult. If you indulged in it, your bones are probably paying the price now, years later. As we grow from child to adult, we’re constantly developing new bone mass: strengthening our bones. It’s a lifelong cycle: cells called osteoblasts build bone; other cells, osteoclasts, break it down, in a process called resorption.

    Up to about age 35, the balance tips in favor of osteoblasts: more bone is being built than is being broken down. In middle age, the balance is about even; then, as we age, osteoclasts start gaining the upper hand, and our bones gradually weaken.

    Thus, the more bone mass you can build up to age 35, the better off you’ll be when you’re 65. Starting with a solid base means those osteoclasts have more work to do before your bones are seriously affected.

    But alcohol abuse works against bones in many ways, including the following:
    •It affects the stomach, pancreas, and liver, all of which contribute to the absorption of calcium and vitamin D; thus alcohol prevents your body’s optimum use of these two key factors in bone health.
    •Excess alcohol decreases estrogen and testosterone production, hormones that help keep bones growing and healthy.
    •At the same time, it increases two bone-damaging hormones: parathyroid, and cortisol. Parathyroid draws calcium out of healthy bones; cortisol encourages osteoclasts (bone breakdown), and discourages osteoblasts.
    •Excess alcohol kills off osteoblasts, which tips the balance still further in favor or osteoclasts.

    Given what too much alcohol does to your system, it’s easy to see why you’re likely to pay a price in your later years for excessive drinking when you’re young.

    And what’s the definition of excessive drinking? 2 to 3 ounces daily, which translates to 4 to 6 glasses (4 to 5 ounces each) of wine or beer (12-ounce bottles); or 2 to 3 mixed drinks (each containing a shot of liquor).

    It’s too late to go back and undo bad habits from 30 years ago. But it’s not too late to pass this information along to younger family members and friends you suspect might be over-indulging in alcohol. Too much liquor negatively affects your judgment, your waistline, your driving ability, your intelligence, and your overall health, including bone health. Spread the word.

    Too much alcohol is just as bad for you when you’re older. Along with all the bone damage mentioned above, it can make you tipsy: literally. And loss of balance is a chief cause of fractures as we age.

  • The good news is, responsible drinking may actually help your bones. A recent study reveals that men who drink two beers a day show increased bone mass density (BMD) of 3% to 4% compared to non-drinkers. And post-menopausal women who enjoy a daily glass of wine show increased BMD of 5% to 8%, compared to non-drinkers.

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    Now, this doesn’t mean you can party hearty; read details of this study, and the downside of a glass of wine or couple of beers, in our post, Is a Daily Glass of Wine Good for You?

    But it does mean you don’t have to feel guilty for drinking RESPONSIBLY. At least so far as your bones are concerned.


Published On: November 08, 2010