• Ethanol;
  • Wheel Running;
  • Rat Model;
  • Microcomputed Tomography;
  • Densitometry


Bone health is influenced by numerous lifestyle factors, including diet and exercise. Alcohol is a major nonessential constituent of diet and has dose- and context-dependent effects on bone. Endurance exercise is associated with increased risk of stress fractures. The purpose of this study was to determine the long-term independent and combined effects of chronic heavy alcohol consumption and endurance exercise (treadmill running) on bone mass and microarchitecture in young adult male Sprague-Dawley rats.


Six-month-old male rats were randomized into 4 groups (9 to 13 rats/group): sedentary + control diet, sedentary + ethanol (EtOH) diet, exercise + control diet, or exercise + EtOH diet. EtOH-fed rats consumed a liquid diet (EtOH comprised 35% of caloric intake) ad libitum. Control rats were pair-fed the same diet with isocaloric substitution of EtOH with maltose-dextran. Exercise was conducted on a motorized treadmill (15% grade for 30 minutes) 5 d/wk for 16 weeks. Femur and 12th thoracic vertebra were analyzed for bone mineral content (BMC) and density (BMD) using densitometry and cortical and cancellous bone architecture using microcomputed tomography.


EtOH consumption resulted in lower femur length, BMC, and BMD, and lower midshaft femur cortical volume, cortical thickness, and polar moment of inertia. In addition, trabecular thickness was lower in vertebra of EtOH-fed rats. Endurance exercise had no independent effect on any end point evaluated. A significant interaction between endurance exercise and EtOH was detected for several cancellous end points in the distal femur metaphysis. EtOH-consuming rats that exercised had lower distal femur metaphysis bone volume/tissue volume, trabecular connectivity density, and trabecular thickness compared to exercising rats that consumed control diet.


The results obtained in this model suggest that chronic heavy alcohol consumption may reduce skeletal integrity by reducing bone size, mass, and density, and by negatively altering bone microarchitecture and may increase fracture risk associated with endurance exercise at weight-bearing skeletal sites.