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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

BU: Drinking Weakens Bones of People Living with HIV

Low bone density is common among people living with human immunodficiency virus (HIV), even those who have successfully suppressed their viral loads with antiretroviral therapy.

Now, a new Boston University School of Public Health study finds that alcohol further decreases bone formation in people living with HIV.

Published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, the study, “Alcohol and Bone Turnover Markers among People Living with HIV and Substance Use Disorder,” found that each additional drink per month was associated with lower the levels of a protein involved in bone formation.

“We did not find an amount of alcohol consumption that appeared ‘safe’ for bone metabolism,” says study lead author Dr. Theresa W. Kim, an assistant professor at the Boston University School of Medicine and a faculty member of the Clinical Addiction Research Education (CARE) program at Boston Medical Center.

“As you get older, your ability to maintain adequate bone formation declines,” Dr. Kim says. “These findings suggest that for people with HIV, alcohol may make this more difficult.”

“Our finding highlights an under-recognized circumstance in which people with HIV infection often find themselves: Their viral load can be well controlled by efficacious, now easier-to-take medications, while other health conditions and risks that commonly co-occur—like substance use and other medical conditions—are less well-addressed,” says Dr. Richard Saitz, professor of community health sciences and the study’s senior author.

The researchers used data from 198 participants in the Boston ARCH cohort, a long-running study led by Dr. Saitz and funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism that includes people living with HIV and current or past alcohol or drug use disorder.

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