Older Women are Drinking More and Harder, and It’s Affecting Their Bone Health

Janet Tiberian Author
By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
November 17, 2023
Doctor reviewing spinal film

When you think of osteoporosis, you probably imagine a frail, older woman. After all, osteoporosis is most often associated with thin, older women with small bone structures. White and Asian women tend to have a higher risk than Black and Latina women, but their risk also is significant.

Your risk has strong connections to family history and menopause, as the lower estrogen (and testosterone in men) weaken bones. And of course, certain medications, like corticosteroids, can be problematic. But your lifestyle also has a meaningful impact on your bones. Poor nutrition, caloric restriction, physical inactivity and cigarette smoking can all take a toll on bone health.

Another risk factor is alcohol. This isn’t news, as studies conducted over the last couple of decades found that long-term excessive alcohol consumption interferes with the bone remodeling process – the lifelong process by which mature bone tissue is removed from the skeleton through resorption and new bone tissue is formed. The process helps bones remain responsive to the changing demands and heal from fractures.

Unfortunately, excessive alcohol consumption is rising among women of all ages, as well as older Americans (both genders). Experts find the escalation of alcohol particularly concerning among women. More older women are drinking and drinking hard. Older women are binge drinking at higher rates than older men.

“Older females are the fastest growing population with substance use disorder, which includes alcohol abuse and alcoholism,” says MDVIP-affiliated physician Jennifer Ruh, MD. “These are the same women with significant osteoporosis. And their doctors may only become aware of the level of their alcohol usage after emergency department visits to address falls and fracture.”

Historically, men tend to drink more than women and have higher rates of alcoholism. However, men and women have different body structures and chemistries. For one thing, women absorb more alcohol than men. And it also takes longer for women to metabolize alcohol. As a result, women tend to have higher blood alcohol levels than men even after drinking the same amounts and the effects occur quicker and last longer, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. They also report:

  • About 13 percent of adult women report binge drinking. 
  • Among these women, 25 percent binge drink at least once a week on average. 
  • About 25 percent consume at least six drinks during a binge drinking session.

“Women need to be honest with their doctors regarding the amount they drink, as doctors can help guide patients in getting help if they need it,” says Ruh. “More and more evidence suggest that no alcohol is the healthiest, not only for osteoporosis but for our health in general.”

Adults should limit their alcohol intake to one drink or less a day for women and two drinks or less a day for men, according to The 2020 to 2025 U.S. Dietary Guidelines. It’s also important to recognize the signs of drinking too much, which can include:

Weight gain: Consuming a lot of alcohol causes weight gain for several reasons. First, many alcoholic beverages, particularly cocktails are jam packed with sugar and calories. Alcohol also is notorious for interfering with burning fat and carbohydrates efficiently. Lastly, alcohol stimulates appetite. 

Heartburn: This occurs when your stomach acid travels back through the esophagus toward the throat, causing a burning sensation in your chest. Alcohol increases stomach acid that triggers heartburn, irritating the stomach lining, causing pain in the upper stomach. 

Neuropathy: Years of overdrinking can cause you to feel tingling or numbness in your feet, legs and/or hands. This is referred to as neuropathy.  

Skin issues. Too much alcohol can dullen your complexion, enhance wrinkles and dark circles, dehydrate and inflame your skin, leave your eyes puffy or swollen, and irritate rosacea and psoriasis. drinking can mess with your skin complexion and youthful look. 

There’s a long list of tactics you can take to help control your alcohol intake, including working with your primary care doctor. Here are some suggestions to help prevent osteoporosis »

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About the Author
Janet Tiberian Author
Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES

Janet Tiberian is MDVIP's health educator. She has more than 25 years experience in chronic disease prevention and therapeutic exercise.

View All Posts By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
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