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How Alcohol Impairs Calcium Metabolism and Bone Structure


Hormones play an important role in maintaining calcium levels in the body, which is necessary not only for strong bones and teeth but also for communication between and within cells of the body.
Several hormones -- parathyroid hormone (PTH), vitamin D-derived hormones, and calcitonin -- work to regulate calcium absorption, excretion, and distribution between bones and body fluids.
Acute alcohol consumption can interfere with these hormones and therefore calcium and bone metabolism and several ways:
  • Cause PTH deficiency and increase calcium excretion
  • Disturb vitamin D metabolism
  • Limit adequate absorption of dietary calcium
  • Inhibit activity of bone-forming cells
  • Adversely affect bone metabolism via nutritional deficiencies
  • Alter reproductive hormones, affecting bone metabolism
All of these can cause calcium deficiency which can lead to bone diseases, such as osteoporosis, a loss of bone mass and therefore an increased risk of fractures.
This is a serious health threat for alcoholics due to the greater risks of falls and therefore fractured or broken bones. The good news is studies have found that alcohol's effect on bone metabolism and bone-forming cells are at least partially reversible when alcoholics stop drinking.
Alcohol Increases Cortisol Levels
Researchers have found that alcohol consumption also increases the body's production of cortisol, not only while the person is drinking, but also later when the drinker is withdrawing from the effects of intoxication.
In the short-term, cortisol can increase blood pressure, focus alertness and attention, but in the longer term can adversely impact body functions such as bone growth, digestion, reproduction, and wound repair.
Hormones May Influence Alcohol-Seeking Behavior
Research with laboratory animals has revealed that alcohol can affect hormonal pathways that can influence alcohol-seeking behavior. Scientists believe that alcohol-seeking behavior is regulated in part by the renin-angiotensin system, which controls blood pressure and salt concentrations in the blood.
Research is continuing to determine how alcohol's interactions with this hormone system may contribute to the pathological drive to consume more alcohol.
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