The Grapevine

Binge Drinking As Teens Can Cause Weak Bones Forever In Women

Young girls and women may have failed to achieve peak bone density if frequent binge drinking was part of their teenage years, according to new research.

The study titled "Heavy Episodic Drinking Is Associated With Poorer Bone Health in Adolescent and Young Adult Women" was published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs on June 14.

As part of the study, 87 college women were recruited and asked to fill out questionnaires. They were asked about their lifestyle which included details about exercise, nutrition, and smoking habits. They also reported how often they would binge drink in high school. Next, the participants underwent measurements of bone density in their lower back, specifically a part known as the lumbar spine.

An analysis revealed women with a history of binge-drinking frequently since high school had lower bone mass than those who did not. The study defined binge drinking as having four or more drinks within two hours and "frequent" to mean at least 115 times — or nearly twice a month on average.

Some of the short-term risks of binge drinking may include alcohol poisoning, car accidents, poor academic performance and sexual assault.

"This study identifies a potential lifetime consequence of binge drinking in young women," said lead researcher Joseph LaBrie, a professor of psychology at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles. He conducted the research along with health and human sciences professor Dr. Hawley Almstedt.

The new findings suggested young girls who regularly binge drink may fail to reach their peak bone mass. Since bone mass is still accruing during adolescence, health experts recommend achieving optimal peak bone mass during youth. Bone density begins to decline between the ages of 20 and 40, with women experiencing a faster decline after menopause. 

Having low bone mass can increase the risk of developing osteoporosis down the road as well as the likelihood of suffering fractures. Osteoporosis specialist Dr. Primal Kaur (who is not affiliated with the study) explained the impact of alcohol on calcium, a nutrient which is essential for healthy bones.

To maintain healthy bones, experts recommend adequate physical activity such as walking, running, strength training, etc. Diets should include recommended amounts of both calcium and vitamin D. While the former can be found in almonds, broccoli, kale, dairy, and soy products, the latter can be sourced from fortified milk, eggs, oily fish, and exposure to sunlight.

"When we consider bone health," LaBrie said, "we always talk about things like exercise, calcium and vitamin D, and not smoking. We may also need to talk about avoiding binge drinking."