If you're the type of person who feels guilty when you crack open that second beer or indulge in a glass of wine several nights a week, there is good news.
A study has found that moderate intake of alcohol among postmenopausal women may be linked to a reduction in bone loss. It's a significant issue, as postmenopausal women are at high risk for osteoporosis, a thinning of bone tissue and a loss of bone density that increase the chance of suffering a fracture.
The study, published on Thursday in the journal Osteoporosis, followed 40 early-postmenopausal women who regularly had one or two drinks a day. The women were not undergoing hormone-replacement therapy and had no history of osteoporosis-related fractures.
When the women stopped consuming alcohol for a two-week period, they had increased bone turnover, which is a known risk factor for osteoporosis-related fractures. But once the women resumed drinking in moderation, their bone-turnover rate returned to normal.
"Drinking moderately as part of a healthy lifestyle that includes a good diet and exercise may be beneficial for bone health, especially in postmenopausal women," said Urszula Iwaniec, associate professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University and one of the study's authors.
"After less than 24 hours to see such a measurable effect was really unexpected."
The researchers pointed out that many osteoporosis medications can have unwanted side effects, while moderate consumption of alcohol may be part of a healthy lifestyle.
A note of caution: This study was relatively small and it's still too early to conclude that moderate alcohol intake is good for bone health. It will take more research to discover how alcohol may protect bones, and whether the findings of this study have broader implications for women.
But the key is moderation. Too much alcohol can increase the risk for some cancers, high blood pressure, heart problems or liver disorders. Canadian guidelines say women should have no more than 10 drinks a week, with no more than two drinks on most days. For men, the guidelines suggest no more than 15 drinks a week, with no more than three drinks on most days.