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Alcohol-induced bone disease

Chronic and heavy alcohol consumption is known to contribute to low bone mass, decreased bone formation, an increased incidence of fractures, and delays in fracture healing. A review of human, animal and cell-culture studies of alcohol's detrimental effects on bone has determined that osteoblast development and function are particularly at risk. The review is published in the December issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

"The maintenance of healthy bone in human adults occurs through a process called 'bone remodeling,'" said Dennis A. Chakkalakal, research scientist at the Omaha Veterans Affairs Medical Center, associate professor in the department of surgery at Creighton University, and sole author of the review. "At any given time during adult life, and in various parts of the skeleton, small portions of the 'old bone' are removed by cells called 'osteoclasts,' and new bone is formed by cells called 'osteoblasts.' In a healthy person, the two activities are in balance so that there is no net loss of bone."

However, chronic and heavy drinking can disrupt the balance by suppressing new bone formation. "The empty space created by normal bone-removing activity is inadequately filled by newly formed bone," said Chakkalakal. "This process continues at other skeletal sites during the next remodeling cycle. The cumulative effect of this process during several remodeling cycles is manifested as measurable bone loss over a period of just a few years."

"Many people know about alcohol's effects on the liver and the damage it can cause to this organ after years of heavy drinking," said Terrence M. Donohue, Jr., VA Research Career Scientist at the Omaha VA Medical Center and professor of internal medicine at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. "Considerably fewer people know about alcohol-induced bone disease."

Key highlights of the review include:

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  • 14-Dec-2005


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