Light Alcohol Consumption May Help Bones

FRIDAY May 23, 2008 -- Although excessive alcohol consumption has long been associated with poor bone health, a new review suggests that people who have just one drink a day may actually have stronger bones that are less prone to fractures.

People who have one drink each day have about a 20 percent reduced risk of hip fracture compared to people who don't drink at all. In comparison, those who drink more than two alcoholic beverages daily have about a 40 percent higher risk of hip fracture, according to the study.

"Our study adds to the literature that suggests that moderate alcohol use is beneficial for many diseases," said study author Dr. Karina Berg, an assistant professor of medicine at Montefiore Medical Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. Berg added that the study also found that "bone mineral density increased as alcohol consumption increased from abstinence up to about two drinks a day."

However, she said this study isn't a reason for people to start drinking if they don't already do so, and having more than two drinks a day can actually harm your bone health.

Ten million Americans have osteoporosis, a bone-thinning disease that makes bones more susceptible to fracture, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). Millions more are at risk of osteoporosis because they have low bone mineral density, according to NIAMS.

Half of all women over 50 and one-quarter of men will suffer a fracture at some point due to osteoporosis, NIAMS reports.

Heavy alcohol consumption is a known risk factor for osteoporotic fractures and low bone mineral density, according to Berg's study, published in the May issue of The American Journal of Medicine.

What hasn't been clear, said Berg, is what the effects of moderate alcohol consumption are on bone health. To try to answer that question, Berg and her colleagues reviewed existing literature to find studies on alcohol consumption and bone health.

After reviewing 13 studies on alcohol and hip fracture risk, the authors concluded that people who had less than 0.5 drinks a day had a 16 percent reduced risk of hip fracture, compared to people who didn't drink at all. When alcohol consumption increased to 0.5 to one drink per day, the risk of hip fracture was reduced by 20 percent. Those consuming one to two drinks daily had a 9 percent reduction in hip fracture risk, while those who drank more than two drinks a day increased their risk of hip fracture by 39 percent, according to the study.

Berg said alcohol's beneficial effects likely come from the fact that alcohol has an influence on circulating estrogen levels, which in turn may improve bone health. However, this study wasn't designed to find the exact reason light drinking might help bone health, only to examine if there was an association.

Dr. Bruce Kaplan, a rheumatologist at Providence Hospital in Southfield, Mich., pointed out that this study doesn't prove cause and effect, but added that, "moderate drinking, particularly wine, has been associated with good health and may have some beneficial effect."

Berg added that current federal government guidelines recommend no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.

More information

To learn more about osteoporosis, as well as ways to keep your bones strong, visit the U.S. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.

Posted: May 2008


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