Studies show that heavy drinking can lead to osteoporosis. But what about moderate drinking? Is it possible it could be beneficial? A new study gives us the answer.
In this study, researchers looked at 862 men and women in their 60s who were moderate drinkers. A moderate drinker is defined as a woman who drinks less than nine drinks per week and a man who drinks less than 14 per week. They checked their bone mineral density at the beginning of the study and then again two years later. During the two years, the men and women kept track of how much alcohol they drank. The results may surprise you.
There was a decided difference between men and women. In men, the more alcohol they drank the better their bone mineral tests were. This was particularly true for red wine. In women, the alcohol intake had no effect at all on their bone density. And in this group of moderate drinkers, the ones who drank more were no more likely to fall or to suffer a fracture than those who drank less. The authors concluded that the data showed that, "Alcohol intake, especially red wine, might prevent bone loss in older men but not women."
So how does drinking alcohol improve the bone mineral density in a man? And why the difference between men and women? In regards to the first question, I don't have a clue. The results were statistically significant, so it was unlikely that it happened by chance alone. But I do have some thoughts on why the women failed to show any improvement.
Women are much more likely to get osteoporosis than men - four times more, to be specific. In this study, the fact that they did not improve was in all likelihood simply related to their increased chance of losing bone. Because here's the point. Their bone mineral density tests did not get worse either. Normally you would have expected them to get worse over a two year period. But the fact that they didn't signifies to me that the alcohol was also effective for them. Somehow it prevented the bone loss that they would expect normally. Sure, they did not show any improvement, but no change at all in a two-year period is still a good result. One last thought.
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The primary reason women are so much more prone to osteoporosis than men has to do with their hormone levels. The hormones estrogen, progesterone, DHEA, testosterone, and HGH are the keys to keeping the bones strong as you age. Whereas a man's hormone levels fall at a slow rate as he gets older, a woman's level falls dramatically in her early 50s when she goes through menopause. In a review article on the prevention of osteoporosis in women, the author points this out when he states, "The first line of prevention and treatment of osteoporosis is hormone replacement therapy." Alcohol stimulates the liver to metabolize hormones more rapidly. So it is very possible that the reason that women don't show a better response to alcohol than men is that the alcohol clears out some of their protective hormones.
If you are a woman, especially if you have a greater risk for osteoporosis, make sure that you are getting bio-identical hormone replacement therapy from a doctor who is well experienced in it. The major risk factors are a family history of osteoporosis, being Caucasian or Asian, or having a petite or slim body build. Also, make sure that you get proper exercise advice from a certified trainer. And, finally, feel free to indulge in a drink, especially red wine every now and then.
Finding your Real Cures,
Frank Shallenberger, MD
Yin J, Winzenberg T, Quinn S, Giles G, Jones G. Beverage-specific alcohol intake and bone loss in older men and women: a longitudinal study. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2011 Apr;65(4):526-32.
Wimalawansa SJ. Prevention and treatment of osteoporosis: efficacy of combination of hormone replacement therapy with other antiresorptive agents. J Clin Densitom. 2000 Summer;3(2):187-201.
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