Alcohol: Beyond Heart Health?>

Alcohol: Beyond Heart Health

by Berkeley Wellness  

Drinking alcohol regularly may have these two benefits for women, according to new research.

  • Bone health. A study from Oregon State University, published in Menopause, included 40 women in early menopause who were daily alcohol drinkers. When they stopped drinking for two weeks, they showed increases in blood markers of bone turnover. (Having a high bone turnover contributes to osteoporosis, since more bone is lost than re-formed.) Interestingly, when the women resumed drinking, the markers returned to their prior levels within 24 hours. The findings “support the hypothesis that moderate dietary alcohol consumption may slow bone loss in postmenopausal women,” the authors said. Previous studies have observed a positive relationship between moderate alcohol intake and bone mineral density—though excess amounts can harm bones.
  • Joint health. A study from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, published in BMJ, collected data on the drinking habits of 34,000 women and then followed up with them seven years later. Those who drank more than three alcoholic beverages a week had half the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis over the study period, compared to women who never drank. Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects joints and is more common in women. Some (but not all) previous studies have linked alcohol to reduced risk of rheumatoid arthritis, as well as to less severe symptoms in people with the disease.
  • What to do: It’s too early to recommend that women start drinking to avoid either bone loss or rheumatoid arthritis, but these studies add to the evidence that moderate amounts of alcohol may have health benefits beyond the heart. Excess alcohol, however, has adverse effects, and even a moderate intake may increase the risk of breast cancer. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise women to limit alcohol to one drink a day (defined as 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1½ ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits). Both studies included only women, but alcohol may have bone and joint benefits in men, too.