Oct. 4, 2004 (Seattle) -- Just in time for Monday night football comes this good news for men with a taste for brew: Researchers say drinking one to two beers a day helps build strong bones. For women, a glass or two of wine has the same positive effect.
Katherine Tucker, PhD, tells WebMD that findings from a study of more than 2,900 women and men suggest that "beer and wine really do have some nutritional value." She says beer may benefit bones because it contains silicon, which has been shown to promote bone health. Wine, on the other hand, is rich in phytochemicals, which also may benefit bones. Tucker is a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center at Tufts University in Boston.
Asked if the beer-wine findings suggest some essential difference between the sexes, Tucker says, "This is more a case of numbers. In this group of people, we didn't have enough men who were wine drinkers or women who were beer drinkers to determine if men and women could benefit from either drink." But she says it is possible that two glasses of wine could benefit men, while women may get a bone boost from two cans of beer.
How Much Is Too Much?
The important message, she says, is "moderation because while two cans of beer or two 6 ounce glasses of wine are good for bones, drinking more is harmful." She says when distilled beverages such as vodka or Scotch are considered, "daily consumption of more than two drinks promotes osteoporosis." Osteoporosis is a bone wasting disease that makes bones brittle. The disease risk increases with age and is more common in women than in men, especially postmenopausal women.
In the study, which was reported at the 26th annual meeting of the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research, Tucker and colleagues used questionnaires to assess the daily intake of beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages. Additionally they used bone scans to measure bone mineral density at the spine and hip -- an indicator of bone strength.
After adjusting for other factors that influence bone health, men who drank one to two beers a day had almost a 7% greater hip bone mineral density than nondrinkers. In women, increase was slightly less but was still significantly better than bone mineral density in nondrinkers.
Tucker notes that moderate drinking -- especially red wine drinking -- has already been linked to heart health. "I think that what we are now finding out is that there is a diet that is good for the heart and another that is good for bones," she says. "Good nutrition is good nutrition, so what is good for the heart is good for the bones." Other studies have suggested that nutrition also plays a roll in brain health, she says.
Current recommendations for heart health are two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.
What About Fractures?
But not all bone experts are convinced that beer and wine build strong bones. Roger Zebaze, MD, a bone researcher from the University of Melbourne in Australia, tells WebMD that "better bone mineral density doesn't always mean fewer fractures." Zebaze, who wasn't involved in the study, says a more clinically significant study would be one that measures the number of fractures in drinkers.
Jane Cauley, DrPH, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh, tells WebMD that findings are interesting but not terribly surprising.
The findings may be biased because moderate drinkers are also likely to "have other good habits. They are likely to be healthier in general." At any rate, Cauley says, the "benefit shown is very modest." Cauley was not involved in the study.