Calcium is essential for maintaining strong bones as well as for muscle and nerve functioning. Calcium levels in the blood do not normally fluctuate, but remain within a narrow range. Calcium is stored in the bones and teeth; when calcium levels in the blood fall, more calcium is removed from the bones. Alcohol intake can impact the amount of calcium absorbed and stored in the bones.
Heavy chronic alcohol intake affects calcium levels in several ways. It’s not the alcohol per se but the side effects of alcoholism that appear to impact calcium levels. A damaged liver doesn’t produce the enzyme needed to convert vitamin D to its active form, and vitamin D is necessary for calcium absorption. Many heavy drinkers don’t absorb fat well, and fat is necessary for calcium and vitamin D absorption as well.
Alcoholics often require more calcium than most people because alcohol use also increases bone loss. Testosterone hormone production falls in alcoholism; in men, androgens, or male hormones, are essential for preserving bone mass. Alcoholics often have a bone mass that’s 50 percent decreased compared to normal bone mass levels, the Montana State University website states. When calcium levels fall, parathyroid levels increase, which can inhibit production of osteoblasts, bone-producing cells. Cortisol levels also rise in alcoholics; high cortisol levels decrease new bone formation and increase bone breakdown.
Osteoporosis, low bone density, can cause significant disability in both alcoholics and nonalcoholics, but alcoholics tend to fall more frequently and are more likely to injure themselves, the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases reports. Hip fractures and vertebral fractures often result, causing pain, immobility and an increased risk of death; 33 percent of people who sustain a hip fracture die within the next year, eOrthopod reports.
A third of all alcoholics get 20 percent of their daily calories from alcohol, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Many do not gain weight, because alcohol appears to supply less energy even though it has the same number of calories as other carbohydrates. Moderate drinkers, those who drink two or less alcoholic drinks per day, generally do not have any alcohol-related nutritional deficiencies; even most of the heaviest alcohol consumers do not have detectable nutritional deficits, the NIAAA states. But the combination of poor nutrition and alcohol’s effects on absorption of calcium and other nutrients can lead to deficiencies over time. Alcohol-induced bone deficiencies may be somewhat reversible over time if a person stops drinking.