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Women with fragile bones benefit from drinking alcohol

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Rachel Ogbu
WVoN co-editor

Researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) have announced that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol may help protect women against osteoporosis.

The researchers measured the effects of alcohol withdrawal on bone turnover in postmenopausal women. They did this by measuring the blood markers for bone turnover, at the beginning of the study and after the women had abstained from drinking alcohol for two weeks.

Prior to the study, the group were consuming 1.4 alcoholic drinks a day on average, with more than 90% being wine drinkers. Their average age was 56.

“What we found was that the [blood] markers were higher, significantly higher [after the women stopped drinking],” explains Urszula Iwaniec, associate professor at OSU. “Indicating that more bone was being resorped,” she says.

But once the women went back to the nightly glass of wine? The blood markers dropped back to where they’d been before.

In other words, the alcohol seemed to slow down the bone turnover rate, which may over time protect against fractures.

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.

In people with osteoporosis, more bone is lost than reformed resulting in porous, weak bones.

Postmenopausal women are at greater risk of osteoporosis because oestrogen, a hormone that helps keep bone remodeling in balance, decreases after menopause.

Alcohol appears to behave similarly to oestrogen in that it reduces bone turnover, the researchers said.

“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,” says Iwaniec.

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).

The Framingham Heart Study also documented that moderate drinkers — people who consume one to two drinks per day — have higher bone mineral density compared with heavy drinkers and people who don’t consume alcohol at all.

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