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Study indicates link between heavy teen drinking and osteoporosis

Most parents know and try to convey to their children that drinking alcohol at a young age can lead to all sorts of bad things. The first consequences that come to mind are often car crashes, drunk driving arrests, alcohol poisoning and assault. However, drinking at a young age can also have consequences on a person's body far into adulthood.

One recent study should be of particular interest to parents of teen girls. Researchers found that heavy episodic drinking (HED) may increase a woman's chances of developing osteoporosis later in life. That's because it could prevent her from reaching peak bone mass (PBM) when she's young.

Often referred to as binge drinking, HED is defined in the study as having at least four alcoholic drinks in less than two hours on an average of 1.6 occasions each month.

Osteoporosis is a bone disease that is most common in postmenopausal women. It involves having low bone mineral density. Women with osteoporosis are more likely to suffer broken bones if they fall or have other accidents — even seemingly minor ones — than people with normal bone density.

Researchers studied 87 female college students. As part of the study, subjects underwent bone scans to determine their bone mineral density (BMD) and lean body mass. The study showed that overall, the women who reported frequently engaging in HED had a lower BMD — controlling for other variables that can impact bone health, such as smoking — than those who didn't.

Researchers believe the results indicate that the specific age at which a young woman begins engaging in HED is less significant to her skeletal health than whether she engaged in it while her bone mass was forming. The study's authors noted that the results could be of use to medical professionals working to reduce osteoporosis as well as "those tasked with reducing underage drinking and mitigating alcohol-related risks among young adults."

It may be difficult to get your teenage daughter to care about the risk of osteoporosis decades from now. However, this is just one more example of the potential long-term impact of heavy drinking on a still-developing brain and body that parents need to be aware of as they deal with the issue of underage drinking.

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