Ultrasound densitometry finds beer helps women keep strong bones

While wine has long been cited for its health benefits, beer hasn't enjoyed nearly the same positive reputation. But a study published in the October issue of Nutrition found that ultrasound bone-density values were higher for women who drink beer, besting both wine drinkers and teetotalers.

The Spanish research team also found that beer drinkers had a lower body mass index (BMI) than those who didn't drink beer (Nutrition, October 2009, Vol. 25:10, pp. 1057-1063).

"The consumption of beer, apart from its alcohol content, favors greater bone mass in women independently of their gonadal status," wrote the group led by Dr. Juan Pedrera-Zamorano of the University of Extremadura in Caceres, Spain. "This might be a result of the phytoestrogen content of this alcoholic drink, which requires further investigation."

Seeking to study the effect of beer consumption on bone mass in healthy women, the researchers performed a cross-sectional study of 1,697 participants from the health district of the province of Caceres. These women had a mean age of 48.44 and BMI ranging between 19 and 32 kg/m2.

Of the study participants, 710 were premenopausal (mean age, 37), 176 were perimenopausal (mean age, 49.4), and 811 were postmenopausal (mean age, 58.1). All participants were recruited in a clinical convenience sample, having visited the health district's rheumatology department clinic for risk assessment of osteoporotic fracture.

After providing their complete medical history and receiving a physical examination, the participants completed a questionnaire that detailed their current cigarette, alcohol, caffeine, and nutrient consumption. The researchers calculated current alcohol intake according to international references, and the subjects were classified as moderate drinkers (110-280 g/week), light drinkers (< 110 g/week), and nondrinkers. They also classified women based on whether they consumed beer and/or wine.

All subjects received a bone ultrasound study of the second to fifth proximal phalanges of the nondominant hand, noting the mean of all measurements. Exams were performed using a DBM Sonic Bone Profiler (Igea, Carpi, Italy), which was equipped with a caliper that closes tangentially on the phalanx; the caliper measures the amplitude-dependent speed of sound (Ad-SoS) through the phalanx, which is used to calculate bone density.

Beer does a body good?

The researchers found that women who drank beer had higher bone density than those who didn't, with the association directly correlated to alcohol consumption. Bone density as measured by the amplitude-dependent speed of sound was 2063.10 m/sec in nondrinkers, 2073.10 m/sec in light drinkers (p < 0.005 versus nondrinkers), and 2087.21 m/sec in moderate drinkers (p < 0.0001 versus nondrinkers and light drinkers).

In addition to beer intake as a factor related to improved bone density, the researchers found that gonadal status influenced Ad-SoS scores. Postmenopausal women tended to have lower bone densities, with Ad-SoS scores of 2020.95 m/sec, compared to scores of 2090.34 m/sec in perimenopausal women and 2117.21 m/sec in premenopausal women.

BMI also lead to higher Ad-SoS scores, while age led to lower scores. There was no association between bone density and wine intake or the number of cigarettes per day.

The lower bone density found in the nonalcohol and wine drinkers may indicate that other components found in beer besides alcohol influence bone mass, according to the authors. The researchers also noted a decline in bone-density values and beer intake with age.

"This is again suggestive of the influential effect of beer on [bone data], independent from that of age," the authors wrote. "Certainly the female flowers of the hop plant have long been used as a preservative and flavoring agent in beer, but they are also now being included in some herbal preparations for women for 'breast enhancement,' given their estrogenic effect."

By Erik L. Ridley
AuntMinnie.com staff writer
September 23, 2009

Related Reading

Heel ultrasound may effectively assess osteoporotic fracture risk, July 2, 2008

Three drinks a day ups breast cancer risk: study, September 28, 2007

Alcohol consumption tied to lower renal cell cancer risk, August 27, 2007

Beer intake helps prevent colon cancer in rats, February 2, 2004

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