Alcohol is responsible for many incidents and accidents that result in bone fractures. Moreover, it has long been known that alcohol abuse significantly hinders the healing process. Now researchers from Loyola University Medical Center have gone public with the findings of a study into how healing is slowed down. Led by Dr. Roman Natoli, the US team plans to follow up with another animal-model study, this time experimenting with treatments offsetting the negative impact of alcohol consumption. If these treatments prove effective, they might also provide benefits for non-drinkers.
The Loyola University team used mice for its study, exposing one group to alcohol levels about three times the legal driving limit and the other to equal amounts of salt water. The researchers established that alcohol slowed down bone fracture healing in three ways.
Firstly, the two groups of mice showed differences in the callus, or the hard tissue appearing around the edges of a broken bone. The mice exposed to alcohol had less mineralised callus, which means that they had less bone forming. In addition, the new bone tissue was stronger in the control group.
The researchers also found signs of oxidative stress in the alcohol-exposed group. This is a process that negatively affects normal cellular functions. Alcohol was related to a much higher concentration of malondialdehyde – a molecule signalling oxidative stress.
Finally, the levels of OPN were found to be much lower in the alcohol-exposed mice. OPN is one of the two proteins that play a part in directing stem cells to the trauma site, the other being SDF-1. While the body is healing from a bone fracture, it dispatches immature stem cells that turn into bone cells after reaching the trauma site.