Q: I’ve heard that carbonated drinks can cause osteoporosis. Is sparkling wine bad for bones too?—Penelope, Tucson, Ariz.
A: The scientific literature on carbonated drinks and bone health can be confusing, and research is still ongoing. However, only certain types of bubbly beverages are linked to decreased bone mineral density, a key marker of bone health. Dr. Katherine Tucker, professor of biomedical and nutritional sciences at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, told Wine Spectator that in the Framingham Osteoporosis Study, “we found that only cola beverages (including decaf and diet) were associated with bone loss” in older women, the group most at risk of osteoporosis. Caffeine and phosphate in cola may adversely affect bone health by competing with calcium, thereby reducing the body’s ability to absorb that crucial mineral. Moreover, these drinks tend to replace calcium-rich beverages (such as milk) in peoples’ diets, which leads to decreased calcium intake.
Dr. Tucker emphasizes that the negative health effects of these beverages likely have nothing to do with carbonation itself. “Although carbonated water is slightly acidic, there is no evidence that it harms bones.” Brittany Larsen, a Ph.D. candidate in neuroscience at Iowa State University and a registered dietician, agrees: “The link between carbonated beverages and decreased bone mineral density appears to be [due to] a reduction in calcium intake,” not “carbonation itself.”
What does all of this mean for people who love sparkling wine? Dr. Aurelia Nattiv, director of the UCLA bone health practice, told Wine Spectator that while “many studies in the past have made the connection in all age groups … that sodas are bad for bone health,” consumption of sparkling wine isn’t likely to have “an appreciable negative effect.” Dr. Tucker also sees “no reason why sparkling wine would have a negative effect” on bone mineral density.
Some studies have even found that moderate wine consumption may benefit bone health, especially in older adults. In one study, Dr. Tucker and her team found that “moderate wine intake was positively associated with bone mineral density in [older] women.” She stresses, however, that the study did not distinguish between the effects of still and sparkling wine.
In a more recent study, Larsen and her team found a correlation between moderate consumption of white and sparkling wine and increased bone mineral density in older women. Like Dr. Tucker, Larsen emphasizes that the study was unable to distinguish between the effects of still and sparkling white wine. Larsen and her colleagues propose that wine’s effects on bone health may be thanks to a polyphenol called protocatechuic acid, which is found at relatively high levels in white wine. However, according to the online database Phenol-Explorer, sparkling wine contains significantly less protocatechuic acid than still white wine. This observation leads Larsen to hypothesize that “it is unlikely that sparkling wines would show the same proposed benefits as still white wines”—though she stresses that further study is needed.
Dr. Nattiv points out that both the potential positive and negative effects on bone health of moderate wine consumption, while statistically significant, are relatively small, and says more study is needed. While she wouldn’t recommend wine consumption to her osteoporosis patients, she counsels that “if you are going to drink, wine is a better option than beer or spirits,” which many studies have linked to reduced health outcomes. She emphasizes that whatever you choose to imbibe, moderation is key: “We know that excess [alcohol consumption] is bad for bones.” As always, talk to your doctor about incorporating wine into a healthy lifestyle, especially if you’re concerned about osteoporosis.—Kenny Martin