Want to improve your bone health? Drink up. It may sound too good to be true—but recent research indicates that alcohol may prevent osteoporosis in older women.
Understanding Bone Loss
Although we may think of bone as hard and durable, in fact it is living tissue that grows and changes throughout our lives. Old bone is constantly being removed and new bone formed. In childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood, new bone formation outpaces the removal of old bone. As we age, however, that process reverses.
Osteoporosis is a disease of the bones that is characterized by reduced bone mass and bone quality. Osteoporosis is often associated with aging—and postmenopausal women are at particular risk because of reduced estrogen circulating in the body.
Alcohol and Bone Loss
To study the connection between alcohol and bone health, researchers followed 40 postmenopausal women who were not using hormone replacement therapy and were classified as “moderate drinkers”—meaning they consumed one-half to two standard drinks per day (8 to 10 grams of alcohol). A standard drink is considered a 12-ounce beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.
The researchers drew blood to measure biochemical markers of bone turnover. In older women, increased bone turnover is a risk factor for osteoporosis and fractures. When the women stopped drinking alcohol for two weeks, the biochemical markers indicated an increase in bone turnover; however, less than a day after resuming drinking, these biomarkers returned to previous levels. The researchers speculated that the alcohol might mimic the effects of estrogen in reducing bone turnover.
The researchers concluded that moderate alcohol intake may slow bone loss by lowering bone turnover—which means it may lower the risk for osteoporosis. The results of the study show an association between alcohol and reduced bone loss, but shouldn’t be taken to mean that it’s a definitive link. In other words, non-drinkers need not suddenly take an interest in alcohol. The takeaway message is that moderate alcohol consumption can’t hurt and might help when it comes to bone loss.
One final note—reduced bone turnover can be a positive thing for older people, but can be detrimental to young people who are still building bone. While this study did not evaluate the effects of alcohol in younger people, it may provide more evidence to support avoiding alcohol consumption at a young age.
Marrone JA, Maddalozzo GF, Branscum AJ, et al. Moderate alcohol intake lowers biochemical markers of bone turnover in postmenopausal women. Menopause. Published early online July 9, 2012. doi: 10.1097/GME.0b013e31824ac071.