Milk builds strong bones, but apparently wine helps keep them. According to an Australian study recently published by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, red wine contributes to stronger bone health in older men. The researchers found links between improved bone mineral density (BMD) and red wine consumption in men aged 50 to 80.
Bone mineral density refers to the concentration of minerals, like calcium, in bones and is a measure of bone strength. As BMD goes down, the risk for developing osteoporosis goes up. According to the Surgeon General’s last major study on bone health, 44 million Americans currently suffer from osteoporosis and half of all Americans over 50 will have weak bones by the year 2020.
There is a long-established connection between excessive drinking and increased bone fractures due to osteoporosis and falls, but research on moderate drinking has found mixed results. The new study, which followed nearly 900 men and women over a two-year period, considered the benefits and detriments of beer, red wine and spirits on men and women.
The researchers measured the bone mineral density of participants with an x-ray at the beginning of the project and then again two years later. Subjects completed questionnaires regarding drinking habits and types of alcoholic beverages consumed. Although the team concluded that red wine may help prevent bone loss in men, it found no such influence on women. Instead, the results suggest women may gain similar benefits from indulging in low-alcohol beer. Spirits and liquor decreased bone density in men but offered no noticeable effect on women.
Graeme Jones, the study's senior author and department head of the Musculoskeletal Unit at the Menzies Research Institute in Australia, noted the results were difficult to explain as there is little data that compares different types of alcoholic beverages. “These somewhat contrasting results suggest it is not the alcohol per se but other factors in the beverages,” said Jones.
Several studies focused on skeletal research in the last 10 years found evidence that phytochemicals, such as the polyphenols found in grape skins, contribute to healthy bones. Jones and his team hypothesize that silicon in beer might promote healthy bone formation.
More long-term research will be needed to solidify the links between bone health and certain types of alcoholic drinks. Jones feels confident the work will continue and said, “A few of my colleagues have volunteered.”