Alcohol and bone density in women

The density of bones, measured as bone mineral density (BMD), is strongly related to osteoporosis.  Elderly women with osteoporosis, in particular, are at increased risk of fractures of the hip, arm, and spine; such fractures often relate to severe disability.  With data on alcohol collected as part of a clinical trial on the prevention of osteoporosis, investigators in Finland have related alcohol consumption to changes over three years in BMD.  After those excluded due to incomplete data, data on 300 women were available for analysis.  The majority of women were abstainers or consumed little alcohol.  Nevertheless, the results support much earlier research: regular, moderate drinking is associated with higher levels of BMD (i.e., lower risk of osteoporotic fractures) than is abstinence.

Data from European surveys have shown that women in Finland tend to have high levels of osteoporosis and to drink very little; hence the increase in BMD associated with alcohol intake, even though slight, could be important in this population.  Over the past three decades, there has been an increase in alcohol consumption in Finland, especially a marked increase in the consumption of wine.  Hence, some Forum reviewers thought that the improvement in BMD among drinkers in this study may have been primarily from wine (which may have additional components, other than alcohol, that relate to BMD).  However, the number of subjects was not large enough to test this hypothesis in the present study.  Overall, this study supports the premise that moderate alcohol intake, along with an adequate calcium intake and vitamin D and exercise, may have a favorable influence on the risk of developing osteoporosis

Forum reviewers, as did the authors, noted a number of limitations of the study: a rather small cohort with a very low intake of alcohol, a short duration of follow up, and rather small differences according to whether the women consumed alcohol or not.

Reference:  Sommer I, Erkkilä AT, Järvinen R, Mursu J, Sirola J, Jurvelin JS, Kröger H, Tuppurainen M.  Alcohol consumption and bone mineral density in elderly women.  Public Health Nutr 2013;16:704-712.  doi: 10.1017/S136898001200331X.