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Just as the go-to drink for bone health — milk — has come under attack by New York Times’ food columnist Mark Bittman for not living up to its healthful reputation, a new study suggests an even more controversial beverage as an alternative: alcohol.
Previous research has linked moderate drinking with improved bone density — women who drink moderately have higher bone density than non-drinkers or heavy drinkers — but such observational studies connecting people’s dietary or drinking patterns to health effects have not been able to determine cause and effect. It’s possible, for example, that people who are healthier to begin with are more likely to drink moderately, rather than the other way around. However, experiments in animals that have been designed to show cause and effect have found that moderate doses of alcohol are indeed good for the bones.
Throughout life, bones constantly remodel themselves, building up new sections while breaking down old ones in turnover processes called formation and resorption. As we age, this turnover falls out of balance, leaving bones thinner and weaker. Moderate doses of alcohol seem to tip the scale back in the right direction.
“Drinking moderately as part of a healthy lifestyle that includes a good diet and exercise may be beneficial for bone health, especially in postmenopausal women,” said lead author Urszula Iwaniec in a statement. “After less than 24 hours to see such a measurable effect was really unexpected.”