A Daily Dose of Alcohol May Slow Bone Loss in Menopause

I love research studies that show that something we actually enjoy — like chocolate or coffee — is good for you. The latest is a small study of 40 healthy women, in their 50s and early 60s, and involves alcohol, or more specifically, 1 1/2 drinks every day.

Researchers at Oregon State University’s Skeletal Biology Laboratory found evidence that this moderate amount of alcohol may help prevent bone loss, compared with heavy drinkers and people who don’t consume alcohol at all.

First, an explanation about bone density:

Our bodies are constantly in the process of making new bone as bits of bone protein are dissolved, or resorbed into the bloodstream. It’s this fine balance between bone formation and bone resorption that keeps our bones strong. But in early, post-menopausal women (age 50-60), the formation of new bone doesn’t keep pace with the amount of bone resorption. The result? Increasing loss of bone density and risk of fractures as we age.

In this study, to see whether moderate dietary alcohol consumption can slow down age-related bone loss, the researchers monitored the participants’ serum (blood) markers for evidence of bone turnover after the women refrained from drinking any type of alcohol for two weeks, and then again within 12 to 14 hours of resuming alcohol consumption. Their findings were described in this press release:

“The researchers found evidence for increased bone turnover – a risk factor for osteoporotic fractures – during the two week period when the participants stopped drinking. Even more surprising: the researchers found that less than a day after the women resumed their normal drinking, their bone turnover rates returned to previous levels.”  One of the study’s authors, Urszula Iwaniec, commented that “after less than 24 hours to see such a measurable effect was really unexpected.”

But before you pour yourself a “medicinal” drink, a word of caution. This isn’t an example of when more is better (it rarely is).  Seven to nine drinks of alcohol over the course of a week may be beneficial for women’s bone health if you’re post-menopausal.  There were several limitations to this study and chronic alcohol abuse is associated with reductions in bone mineral density – not improvements.

Why should you care about this study? About 80 percent of all people with osteoporosis are women, and post-menopausal women face an even greater risk because estrogen, a hormone that helps keep bone remodeling in balance, decreases after menopause. (Click here to share this statistic on Twitter)

“Everyone loses bone as they age, but not everyone develops osteoporosis,” said Russell Turner, Director of OSU’s Skeletal Biology Lab, in the OSU press release. “Being able to identify factors, such as moderate alcohol intake, that influence bone health will help people make informed lifestyle choices.”

To learn more about bone health, building and keeping it, I recommend Dr. Susan Brown’s excellent book, Better Bones, Better Body : Beyond Estrogen and Calcium and her website. If you have other resources to recommend, please share it in the comment box below.