Drinking wine and beer in moderation is linked to stronger bones, according to research presented at the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research's annual conference this month.
"Consumption of one or more servings of wine per day was associated with significantly greater bone-mineral density" than nondrinkers and spirits drinkers had, said researcher Katherine Tucker, an associate professor at Tufts University in Boston.
Tucker reported on the results of bone-density tests administered to 2,926 men and women participating in the larger Framingham Offspring Study, a long-running epidemiological study of children of thousands of residents of a Massachusetts town.
Her findings, which she expects to be published soon in a medical journal, add support to previous studies on drinking and bone density. One study found moderate drinking may increase bone mass in elderly women, while another determined that among female twins, moderate drinkers had denser bones than their nondrinking siblings.
Between 1995 and 1999, the participants in the Framingham study had their bone strength measured via scans of the bone-mineral density in the spine and hip areas. The volunteers, who ranged in age from early 40s to late 60s, also provided information on their drinking, eating, smoking and exercise habits, as well as whether they took calcium or estrogen supplements.
The subjects reported how much wine, beer and/or spirits they drank each week and then were categorized by their average daily consumption: none, up to half a serving a day, half to one serving, one to two servings and more than two servings per day. (One serving was defined as 6 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer or 1.5 ounces of liquor.)
Tucker and her team, which included scientists at Cambridge and Harvard universities, then compared drinking habits to the results from the bone scans.
Liquor drinkers, regardless of their consumption levels, showed bone densities similar to nondrinkers. In contrast, moderate wine and beer drinkers -- those who consumed one to two servings a day -- had greater average bone densities. Those who drank more than two servings a day also had higher densities, but the benefits were not quite as significant, at least for men who preferred beer. Men and women who averaged less than one drink a day showed only slight increases in bone density compared with nondrinkers.
"The greatest bone-mineral density was seen at reported intakes of one to two drinks per day, after which bone-mineral densities tended to be lower, suggesting negative effects of heavy drinking," Tucker said. Cautioning against increasing one's daily consumption, she noted that there are risks associated with heavier drinking, such as reduced motor coordination that could result in falls and broken bones.
In the scans of thigh bones, for example, nondrinkers had an average bone-mineral density of around 0.87 grams per centimeter squared. Men who consumed one or two beers per day had an average density of just more than 0.92 g/cm2, or about 6 percent greater. Men who drank more than two beers per day had an average density closer to 0.90 g/cm2 -- better than the nondrinkers, but not as good as the more moderate drinkers.
The thigh-bone scan results for men who preferred wine were slightly different. Those who drank one or two glasses a day showed a density of 0.90 g/cm2 and those who drank two or more a day came in at 0.91 g/cm2. However, Tucker noted that the number of heavier wine drinkers was small and that result may not apply to the general population.
The results for women who drank wine or beer were similar, with bone density increasing with a drink or two a day. However, few women drank more than this, and the results for the heaviest drinkers were not disclosed at the presentation.
The researchers were not sure exactly how beer and wine may help strengthen bones, but they believe the benefits may be attributable to compounds other than alcohol. Noting that research has shown that polyphenols found in red wine appear to be beneficial to heart health, she said, "These [compounds] may also contribute to bone benefits, but we do not have enough evidence to suggest this yet."
Overall, the findings "clarify that doctors should not tell patients to stop drinking if they have thinning bones," said Tucker, though she suggests that liquor drinkers may want to consider switching their beverage of choice.
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