Is Alcohol Good or Bad for Your Bones?
So you enjoy a glass of wine or two with dinner, the occasional cold beer with friends, or a fancy cocktail at social gatherings…
But have you ever wondered how alcohol might affect your bone health?
After all, research shows that once you hit age 40, you lose about 1% of your bone density a year. This is especially concerning for women who are at increased risk of developing osteoporosis — a condition where bones become weak and prone to fracture.
Does this mean you have to give up your glass of wine with dinner? Well, it depends on whether you’re in the habit of having one glass or several…
As you can imagine, chronic heavy drinking is bad news for your bones.
Alcohol must be detoxified by the liver, and too many wipes out the liver’s supply of glutathione — the body’s most important antioxidant. This destroys the liver’s ability to eliminate not just alcohol, but everything else it needs to clear… a situation that ramps up inflammation in the body.
This affects your bones because chronic, low-grade inflammation sends your osteoclasts (the specialized cells that break down bone) into overdrive. And since building new bone takes much longer than breaking down old bone, too much osteoclast activity results in bone thinning and, ultimately, osteoporosis.
So it’s not surprising that excessive alcohol consumption has been repeatedly associated with low bone mineral density (BMD), elevated markers of bone resorption (bone breakdown), and increased risk of fragility fractures.
But before you say goodbye to your favorite Shiraz, there’s some good news too…
Recent research shows that moderate alcohol consumption actually supports bone health and lowers your risk of hip fracture.
In this study, researchers collected data on a large number of people over a 34-year period:
- 75,180 women aged 53 on average when the study began
- 38,398 men aged 50 or older when the study began
Compared to no alcohol intake, low to moderate alcohol consumption was associated with a significantly lower risk of hip fracture!
Now, it’s worth noting the results from observational studies need to be taken with a grain of salt because other factors could be at play. For example, in this instance, people who have a glass of wine a day might also follow a Mediterranean diet or walk more. So these factors could also contribute to their reduced risk of fracture. Nonetheless, these initial findings are promising…
But what do the researchers mean by “low to moderate” alcohol intake?
No more than 20 grams of ethanol (alcohol) per day for women and 30 grams per day for men.
To put that in perspective, here’s the ethanol content of various types of alcoholic beverages:
- 12.4 grams for a 4-oz glass of red wine
- 12.1 grams for a 4-oz glass of white wine
- 13.9 grams for a 12-oz glass of regular beer
- 13.1 grams for a 12-oz glass of light beer
- 14.0 grams for 1.5-oz shot of liquor
As you can see, there’s no need to give up your glass of wine with dinner! In fact, one glass a day may be just what the doctor ordered.
But why is moderate alcohol intake good for your bones?
In women, moderate alcohol consumption boosts estrogen and has been associated with reduced bone resorption. This makes sense as estrogen slows the rate of bone remodeling after menopause.
Wine, particularly red wine, is especially beneficial due to its phenol content. (Phenols are compounds that affect the taste and color of wine!) Studies show that certain flavonoids, a type of phenol present in wine, promote the creation of osteoblasts (the specialized cells that build bone), and inhibit the creation of osteoclasts. What’s more, higher phenol intake has been associated with higher BMD.
So not to worry, you can toast the health of your bones with a moderate amount of alcohol. Just make sure you keep the guidelines I shared above in mind!
Lara Pizzorno, MDIV, MA, LMT
Lara is the best-selling author of “Your Bones: How You Can Prevent Osteoporosis and Have Strong Bones for Life – Naturally”. She’s also a member of the American Medical Writers Association with 30+ years of experience and the Resident Bone Health Expert at AlgaeCal.
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