Moderate Alcohol Consumption Strengthens Bones

One to two glasses of beer or wine per day, as well as other forms of moderate alcohol consumption, might help strengthen bones. Heavy alcohol consumption, however, appears to have the opposite effect, leading to decreased bone density. The results come from a recent study conducted on primarily elderly individuals, a segment of the population most at risk for osteoporosis and general bone fragility.

The current study built on past research that had shown an association between moderate alcohol consumption and increased bone density in the elderly, performing a more thorough analysis, focusing on types of alcohol (beer, wine and liquor being the three primary categories), and specific levels of consumption. This research is independent, but supportive, of past research that has shown moderate red wine consumption can be beneficial for health, namely as a protection against cardiovascular disease.

The study primarily analyzed elderly men and post-menopausal women (totalling 2,471 individuals), but a small group (248 individuals) of pre-menopausal women were also included in the study. Researchers took bone mass density (BMD) samples from the hip and spine, and surveyed each person about their typical drinking habits. It’s noted by the researchers that very little data was available for women who consume excessive amounts of alcohol, so the conclusions made below concerning heavy alcohol consumption can only confidently be translated to men.

There were many associations found in the study, but most generally, it was found that moderate alcohol consumption of any sort, which means two or less servings per day for men, and one serving for women, increases BMD in both men and women. For men, however, this connection was most notable in moderate beer drinkers (a serving of beer is 356 mL), and mixed alcohol (beer, wine and liquor) drinkers. A serving of wine is 118 mL, and liquor is 42 mL.

Women, on the other hand, demonstrated higher BMD most significantly through moderate wine consumption. “We saw stronger associations between higher BMD and beer drinkers, who were mostly men, and wine drinkers, who were mostly women, compared to liquor drinkers,” says study author Dr.. Katherine Tucker.

The authors were able to hypothesize, based on some past research linking silicon to BMD, that the presence of silicon in beer may be the reason for increased BMD in men. No such conclusion was made about why wine and liquor may be responsible for increased BMD, stressing the need for further research on the topic. Concedes Dr. Tucker, “we cannot say definitively what component of these alcoholic drinks might be beneficial to bone health because our findings are from an observational study, as opposed to a clinical trial.”

For heavy drinkers, the above results not only do not apply, but BMD almost surely decreases as a result of the excessive alcohol intake. This goes for heavy drinkers of beer, wine and liquor, of both sexes, and is supported by past research that has linked osteoporosis to alcoholism. Dr. Tucker stresses that “there is a body of research showing alcoholism is devastating to bones. It’s a major risk factor for osteoporosis. No one should depend solely on alcohol to maintain bone health.”

Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Tucker, Katherine. Grossman, Andrea. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition news release. March 2009.