The best beverage for healthy bones (hint: it’s not milk)

By now, you’ve probably heard of the “French Paradox” which burst onto the scene of epidemiologic-statistical studies about 25 years ago. And left the government control freaks in this country scratching their heads. It went against everything they believed about healthy lifestyles.

The French drink more wine, smoke more, and eat more rich foods—like pate de fois gras, cheeses, buttery croissants and pasteries. Yet, in France, the rate of the chronic diseases that we associate with these  “lifestyle” risk factors is half of what it is in the United States.  

Of course, in the typically reductionist mindset of modern medical research, a frantic search was on for some magical “anti-oxidant” in wine. And now just about everyone has heard of  resveratrol—and believes it holds the key to red wine’s health benefits.

But it turns out the healthy component of wine is the alcohol—not the resveratrol. These health benefits are primarily due to the stress-reducing effects of alcohol.

Indeed, stress is one of the greatest killers of modern times. So it makes sense that a moderate amount of alcohol, with its relaxing effects, would be protective.  

But now there is even more good news about moderate alcohol intake. With an even more specific benefit for women—reduced risk of osteoporosis.

Researchers examined bone mineral density in 40 healthy postmenopausal women who reported consuming at least 20 grams of alcohol per day. (For the record, 20 grams is less than 1 ounce, so these women were by no means “excessive” drinkers.) They asked the women to abstain from drinking for two weeks. Then they had the women resume their normal drinking habits, and tested their blood levels of two bone health markers the following morning.

They discovered that the women experienced increased bone turnover during their two-week hiatus from alcohol. When they resumed drinking, that turnover slowed.

Increased bone turnover is the principal cause of bone loss in postmenopausal women. And bone loss leads to osteoporosis and increased risk of fractures, especially of the hip.

But according to this new study, having a glass of wine with dinner or an evening nightcap actually helps strengthen your bones.

I’ll toast to that.

“Moderate alcohol intake lowers biochemical markers of bone turnover in postmenopausal women.” Menopause 2012; July 9 (epub ahead of print)