Binge Drinking Impairs Bone Healing

Study investigators examined the effects that alcohol consumption had on bone healing in mice. One group of mice was exposed to alcohol levels that were roughly equivalent to three times the legal limit for driving. The control group was exposed to equal amounts of saline.

The researchers discovered three ways in which alcohol impaired bone healing following a fracture. First, there were differences in seen in the callus, the hard bony tissue that forms at the ends of fractured bones. In the alcohol group, the callous was observed to be less mineralized, meaning not as much bone was forming. In addition the bone that did form was not as robust.

Second, mice exposed to alcohol showed signs of oxidative stress, a process that impairs normal cellular functions. The alcohol-exposed mice showed greatly higher levels of malondialdehyde, a molecule that serves as a marker for oxidative stress. In addition, levels of an enzyme that lowers oxidative stress, super oxide dismutase, were higher in the alcohol-exposed mice.

Third, during the process of healing, the body sends immature stem cells to the fracture area. Upon arrival, the stem cells then mature into bone cells. Two proteins, known as SDF-1 and OPN, aer responsible for recruiting stem cells to the injury site. In the alcohol-exposed group, OPN levels were observed to be much lower.

Natoli is now planning to follow up this study with an animal-model study on two potential treatments to counter the negative impact of alcohol on bone healing. One treatment would involve the injection of stem cells into mice to boost bone healing. The other treatment would involve the administration of NAc, an antioxidant that combats oxidative stress. Natoli believes that if such treatments were found to be effective among alcohol abusers, it’s possible the treatments might also speed the bone healing process in non-drinkers as well.