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A new study of mice helps explain why binge drinking may interfere with bone healing. The study shows how alcohol slows healing on the cellular and molecular levels. The researchers say their findings could eventually lead to treatments to improve bone healing in people who abuse alcohol, and possibly in people who don’t drink.

It has long been known that people who drink heavily are more likely to break bones. The increased risk cannot be fully explained by more frequent falls or alcohol-related auto accidents, Smithsonian reports. The more people drink, the greater their risk, the article notes. Drinkers who break bones tend to heal more slowly than non-drinkers, and complications during healing are common.

Researchers at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago gave mice levels of alcohol that were similar to a human with .20 blood alcohol content—several times the legal driving limit. An average person would need to drink between six and nine drinks in one hour to attain this level, and would likely experience confusion, disorientation, dizziness, severe risk of injury and exaggerated emotions.

These mice had induced tibia fractures, and were compared to a group of mice with similar fractures that did not receive alcohol. In the mice given alcohol, the mass of temporary bone tissue formed by osteoblasts—cells that synthesize new bone growth—in the gap between the two broken bone ends was softer and less dense, the article notes.

The study also found mice exposed to alcohol exhibited signs of oxidative stress, a process that impairs normal cellular functions, according to a university news release.

The findings were presented this week at the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research’s annual meeting.

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