Stopping Smoking, Alcohol Abuse

Two lifestyle habits, considered diseases in certain cases, that are important to eliminate are smoking and excessive use of alcohol. This is especially true those suffering from osteoporosis.

Smoking in any amounts has a detrimental effect on bone density. Alcohol intake of greater than 3 ounces per day (or about 2-3 typical drinks) has been shown to increase bone loss. If one considers that studies have shown that people who smoke are more likely to drink than nonsmokers and that people who drink are more likely to smoke than nondrinkers, it is no surprise that stopping either activity (or both) can be particularly difficult. Patients with either of these problems are advised to address these factors as part of their osteoporosis and fracture prevention plan and seek appropriate medical treatment as necessary.

Smoking and Osteoporosis

Smoking impacts a person at risk for developing osteoporosis in several ways14. In studies, smoking has been shown to:

  • Reduce blood supply to the bones
  • Slow the production of bone-forming cells
  • Impair the absorption of calcium
  • Reduce the protective effect of estrogen replacement therapy
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Because those who smoke have weakened bones, they are more likely to experience exercise-related injuries, such as fractures or sprains. When they do sustain a fracture, it takes longer to heal. If surgery is required to repair a fractured bone, then a person who smokes is more likely to have a longer recovery period and greater risk of complications following the surgery than one who doesn’t smoke.

While it is very difficult for many individuals to quit smoking, for a person at risk for osteoporosis, quitting smoking is definitely worth the effort as it will greatly reduce the risk of sustaining a fracture.

Excessive Alcohol and Osteoporosis

The effect of moderate alcohol use on bone health is unclear, and some studies suggest moderate alcohol intake (usually defined as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men) is beneficial. However, the damaging effects of heavy alcohol use are fairly consistently supported.

Although alcohol’s damaging effects on bone are most striking in people who drink heavily during adolescence and young adulthood, research has shown that elderly women (between the ages of 67 and 90) who consumed an average of more than 3 ounces of alcohol per day (the equivalent of six typical alcoholic drinks) had greater bone loss than women who had minimal alcohol intake (Hannan et al. 2000).15

The exact way alcohol affects bone isn’t entirely understood, but it seems to interfere most with bone formation. As with smoking, excessive alcohol use has a wide range of damaging health effects for any person, but is particularly damaging for persons at risk for osteoporosis.