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One to two drinks a day good for women's bones

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
One to 2 drinks found to help keep bones strong in postmenopausal women.

New research shows postmenopausal women who consume one to two alcohol drinks a day are at lower risk for bone loss that leads to osteoporosis. Drinking moderately seems to normalize bone turnover to protect older women from fractures related to osteoporosis.

Alcohol lowers rate of bone turnover that is a risk factor for osteoporosis

Researchers at Oregon State University looked at what happened to bone turnover when postmenopausal women stopped drinking alcohol for just two weeks.

They found an increase in bone turnover blood markers, meaning increased risk of osteoporosis and fractures. High rate of bone turnover is associated with lower bone density, osteoporosis and higher chances that brittle bones will fracture.

Bones, like other cells in the body, are metabolically active throughout life. When they get old or injured, new bone starts to form through a process known bone remodeling. The process is regulated, in part, by the hormone estrogen.

After menopause, estrogen levels decline. When levels of the hormone falls, bone remodeling slows down because turnover accelerates. In other words, bone is reabsorbed faster than new bones can form.

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For the current study, published online July 11 in the journal Menopause, researchers studied 40 women who were in early stages of menopause, consumed 1 to 2 alcohol drinks a day, no history of bone fracture and were not on hormone replacement therapy.

The women were asked to stop drinking alcohol for two weeks. During that time, the researchers found evidence that bone turnover was higher. A surprise, according to a media release, was that bone turnover rates normalized one day after the women resumed drinking.

“Drinking moderately as part of a healthy lifestyle that includes a good diet and exercise may be beneficial for bone health, especially in postmenopausal women,” said Urszula Iwaniec, associate professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU who contributed to the study. “After less than 24 hours to see such a measurable effect was really unexpected.”

The finding doesn’t mean you should start drinking, but it does add to past evidence that supports the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption. Weight bearing exercises, consuming low-fat dairy products, green leafy vegetables, tofu; calcium fortified orange juice and cereals and soy products are other recommended ways to keep bones strong, according to Mayo Clinic experts. Another natural way to prevent osteoporosis is by adding dried plums to the diet - a dietary approach that can help both men and women, according to 2010 findings published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

The researchers say perhaps having one to two drinks a day acts like estrogen to normalize bone turnover, but the study doesn’t explain why alcohol seems to be good for a women’s bones.

doi: 10.1097/GME.0b013e31824ac071
Marrone, Jill A. MS, et al.
July 9, 2012

Image credit: Morguefile