How Drinking Affects Bone Mass in Young Women: When You Should Consider Rehab

Women generally reach optimum bone mass in their spines during the ages of 20 and 25, followed by a slow but gradual decline throughout the lifespan. Researchers have found that anything that affects healthy bone development during that critical period of development can significantly increase the chances of osteoporosis and a higher risk of fractures in adulthood.

In other words, binge drinking during the teen years may hinder the development of healthy bones, and the consequences may last a lifetime.

Most medical providers are rightfully concerned about smoking, exercise and proper nutrition, including calcium and vitamin D. However, it appears that the effect of binge drinking on bone mass should be addressed by health care providers.

A Note about Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a serious condition that causes bones to become brittle and weak due to tissue loss. Eventually, the bones become abnormally porous and sponge-like.

In most cases, it is a disease that affects post-menopausal women. However, failure to reach peak bone levels during the teen years may be a contributing factor in its development. Individuals with osteoporosis usually don’t realize they have the condition and display no symptoms before bone fractures occur.

Bone Density and Drinking Habits

A study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs followed nearly 90 female students at a college in the United States. All were measured for bone density in their spines, and all were asked about their drinking habits during high school.

Those who engaged in frequent binge drinking, defined as four or more drinks within two hours at least 115 times during the high school years, had lower bone mass than their peers who didn’t engage in binge drinking.

Researchers aren’t yet sure how alcohol interferes with bone development, but some think alcohol may interfere with the absorption of vitamin D and calcium.

Binge drinking in young men has yet to be studied, but most researchers think the findings would be similar.

How to Maximize Bone Development

The teen years are the best time to maximize proper bone development:

  • The most important way to avoid fragile bones in later life is to avoid binge drinking.
  • Teenage girls who binge drink frequently should seek drug and alcohol treatment or rehab as soon as possible. The sooner treatment begins, the higher the chance that serious problems can be averted.
  • Teen girls should also eat a healthy diet that includes dairy products and other calcium-rich foods such as figs, white beans and broccoli or cabbage.
  • Regular exercise can help build strong bones. An exercise regimen should include weight-bearing and strength-training exercises.
  • Vitamin-D levels should be checked periodically, as deficiencies are common in drinkers and non-drinkers alike.
  • Avoid extremely low-calorie diets.

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