Can alcohol damage your bones?

by Rebecca Israel, MS and Charles Li, MD

June 03, 2020

  • People who consume alcohol are more likely to develop bone-damaging conditions.

  • Drinking more than one or two alcoholic drinks per day may increase your risk of bone damage.

  • Drinking less than one alcoholism drink per day may not increase your risk of bone damage.

Alcohol and Bones: Evidence of bone damage from alcohol consumption

The health effects of alcohol have been rigorously studied by scientists. They’ve found social, mental, and physical consequences of excessive alcohol consumption.

Alcohol can harm nearly all parts of the human body: our skin, heart, liver, kidney, brain, immune system. A lesser-known physical complication of alcohol use is bone damage.

Source: Alcohol Use and Your Health, CDC

A review of the data

To assess the effect of alcohol consumption on bones, researchers collected the results from six different studies on the topic. Altogether, the studies included over a hundred thousand participants of various genders, races, medical experiences, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Alcohol and Bone Damage: Setup

Source: The Effect of Alcohol on Osteoporosis: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Study groups were formed based on their reported alcohol consumption per day: no drinks, less than one drink, 1-2 drinks, or more than 2 drinks. In these groups, the researchers calculated their risk of bone damage.

A notable relationship

Separately, each of the studies saw some level of risk for bone damage. Together, there was a noticeable risk increase for participants who drank at least 1 drink per day and even higher in participants who drank at least 2 drinks per day. Participants who had one or fewer drinks per day were not at higher risk for bone damage.

 Alcohol and Bones: Study Results. Patients who consumed one or more drinks per day had a higher risk of bone damage than patients consumed less than one drink per day.

Researchers also found a positive association between alcohol consumption and osteoporosis, a condition that makes the bones weak and brittle. Osteoporosis is a common condition, particularly in women over 50 years old.

Alcohol and Osteoporosis: Alcohol and Osteoporosis

The data does not tell us that alcohol directly hurts our bones. However, that data does suggest that alcohol increases one's risk of conditions that weaken the bones, such as osteoporosis.

Alcohol causes dizziness, disorientation, and impaired motor skills. Impairments like these may contribute to an increased risk of falling and fracturing a bone.

In addition, analyzing multiple studies at once can be difficult for a few reasons. Each study was conducted with different people, in different places, and at different times. More importantly, they all used slightly different measures based on their researcher’s hypotheses. Therefore, the studies do not fit perfectly together when trying to generalize all the data.

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