Moderate Boozing May Prevent Bone Loss in Women

Two drinks a day improved older women's bone density.
Two drinks a day improved older women's bone density.

Drinking one or two alcoholic drinks daily may curb bone loss in women, according to a new study. The effect is so marked that taking just a two-week break from booze hastened bone decline, WebMD reports.

Researchers at the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University studied the effects of moderate alcohol consumption on "bone turnover," or the replacing of old bone cells with new ones, in healthy, post-menopausal women. After menopause, women's production of new bone cells slows, but they keep shedding old cells, leading to a porous skeleton that easily fractures.

The women in the study averaged 1.4 drinks a day, and more than 90% were winos wine drinkers. Their average age was 56.

Previous studies have shown that women who drink moderately (one or two alcoholic beverages per day) have higher bone density than nondrinkers or heavy drinkers. The new study suggests why: Alcohol appears to reduce bone loss in middle-aged women by suppressing the rate at which their bones shed old cells.

The women in the study who drank more alcohol (up to two drinks per day) had denser hip bones than those who drank less (as little as half a drink per day). But blood tests showed that abstaining from drinking for as little two weeks triggered an acceleration of bone turnover in all of the women -- meaning they shed old bone cells without making enough new ones. Less than a day after the women resumed their normal drinking, bone turnover showed a rapid decrease.

"After less than 24 hours, to see such a measurable effect was really unexpected," said study researcher Urszula Iwaniec, associate professor at Oregon State. "Moderate alcohol as a component of a healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced diet and physical activity may lower the risk of osteoporosis," Iwaniec also told WebMD. She added, however, that the study was small, with only 40 women, and the research needs to be repeated in larger groups to see if the findings hold up.

The study was published yesterday in the journal Menopause.

It is yet to be determined whether alcohol also benefits younger women's bones. In one past study, 20- to 47-year-old women experienced a drop in the marker of bone turnover after drinking two beers. Iwaniec says it is possible alcohol "may be detrimental to the growing skeleton but have beneficial effects on the aging skeleton."

Previous studies have linked moderate drinking with lower risk of cardiovascular disease, lower risk of stroke in women and lower mortality in general. So kick the Boniva to the curb and booze up, older ladies! (Just don't overdo it. Too much alcohol is not only bad for your bones, it makes you more likely to fall down.)

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