Quitting alcohol `may help reclaim bone loss from boozing`

Updated: Sep 15, 2012, 16:15 PM IST

Washington: As little as eight weeks of abstinence from alcohol can initiate correction of an imbalance between bone formation and resorption due to its toxic effects, a new study has claimed.

Physical activity can also serve as a protective factor against reduced Bone Mineral Density.

Osteoporosis, or reduced bone mineral density (BMD), is defined by an absolute decrease in total bone mass, caused mostly by an imbalance between osteoclastic bone resorption and osteoblastic bone formation.

Reduced BMD often co-occurs with alcoholism. A study of the passage of bone formation and resorption in abstinent alcoholics has found that eight weeks of abstinence may be enough to initiate a healthier balance between the two.

“There are many reasons why alcoholics may develop reduced BMD: lack of physical activity, liver disease, and a suspected direct toxic effect of alcohol on bone-building cells,” Peter Malik, corresponding author of the study from the Medical University Innsbruck, Austria, said.

“A reduced BMD carries an increased risk of fractures with all the consequences; osteoporotic fractures also put an enormous financial burden on health care systems due to high rehabilitation costs,” Malik said.

Malik and his collegues examined BMD in 53 male abstinent patients, 21 to 50 years of age, at an alcohol rehabilitation clinic. Blood work was drawn for various measures at baseline and after eight weeks of treatment.

Study authors also used x-rays to determine BMD in the lumbar spine and the proximal right femur, as well as a questionnaire to determine levels of physical activity prior to inpatient treatment.

“We found that BMD is reduced in alcoholic men without liver disease,” Malik said.

“However, the initial imbalance between bone formation and resorption seems to straighten out during abstinence. This means that an increased fracture risk could be reduced during abstinence if no manifest osteoporosis is already present.

“In addition, regular physical exercise seems to be ‘bone-protective’ in alcoholic patients, likely due to the fact that a dynamic strain on bone through physical activity increases the rate of bone formation and resorption, which is good for bone density,” he said.

According to the study, during the first weeks of abstinence the bone metabolism slowly improves but is not fully recovered as recovery after long-term alcoholism takes months and probably years.

Based on these findings, Malik recommended that patients with a longer history of alcohol abuse or dependence undergo dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, a measurement of BMD, especially when other risk factors such as co-medication or smoking are present.

The study will be published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

ANI