A Drink to Your (Bone?) Health

Moderate alcohol consumption in adults can have health benefits. It can reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, gallstones and maybe diabetes. Russell Turner, Gianni Maddalozzo and Urszula Iwaniec of OSU’s Bone Research Laboratory could add osteoporosis to that list.

Studies with animals have found that the equivalent of five to 10 drinks per week can have beneficial effects on the skeleton.

With support from the National Institutes of Health and the John C. Erkkila, M.D., Endowment, they hope to conduct the first–ever controlled study on alcohol and bone density in post–menopausal women.

Iwaniec and Turner co–authored a recent report on a drug that shows promise as a treatment for breast cancer and metastases to bone. The influence of alcohol consumption on bone density has also been a major focus of their work.

"We’re not doing this with the idea of advocating alcohol consumption for the prevention of osteoporosis," says Turner.

"But essentially half of Americans drink.

And out of that half, 80 percent drink in the moderate range. The question is, Are they getting any skeletal benefit from it?"

So, starting in 2008, the Bone Research Lab will seek up to 50 female volunteers to participate in a six–week pilot study. To be eligible, subjects must routinely drink five to 10 "standard" (defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80–proof distilled spirits) drinks per week.

They must be post–menopausal and not be taking hormone replacement therapy or any other medications that would influence bone.

The study will require subjects to stop drinking alcohol for a period of two weeks and then to resume their regular routine.

Blood and urine samples will be collected four times during the study and analyzed for biomarkers of bone resorption (a normal process in healthy bones). Bone density scans of the whole body, hip and spine will also be included.

In rat studies, moderate alcohol intake has been as effective as some prescription drugs in lowering elevated bone turnover (replacement of old bone with new bone). Elevated turnover is responsible for bone loss and reduced bone quality in post–menopausal women. "It’s important because if in fact you do have an advantage, you may not have to take drug therapy at all or won’t need to take it until later in life," says Turner. On the other hand, excessive alcohol consumption is known to reduce bone density.

Bone density reaches a maximum in young adults and reflects a balance between normal bone formation and loss.

Estrogen helps to maintain bone mass, but after menopause, estrogen levels drop and bone resorption increases, resulting in a net loss.

Nationally, 80 percent of people diagnosed with osteoporosis are post–menopausal women. Care for people who have suffered osteoporotic fractures cost an estimated $18 billion in 2002, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

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