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Abstinence May Make the Bones Grow Stronger (or Can't a Girl Get a Drink Anymore?) Part 2

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Dr. SaraWhat's kinda got my female clinician's knickers in a twist about this study is the abstinence part. Here's what I'm thinking: If alcoholics, who presumably drank a lot, were able to show improved bone mineralization density after eight weeks of abstinence, would it be possible for people at lower levels of alcohol consumption also to show similar improved results after a longer stretch of abstinence? Or show smaller but significant improvements after eight weeks? You see where I'm going with this? It's not fun, but we've got to consider that at some level -- and what that level is, we don't know -- alcohol could be toxic to your bones. I want to see this study replicated with women with different levels of alcohol intake.

You might think this study conflicts with the wealth of data showing that moderate drinking actually improved bone density.[1] In fact, a new study just published in the journal Menopause provides additional evidence of favorable effects for limited alcohol intake.[2] Here, researchers measured bone cell turnover indicators in 40 postmenopausal women under 65 who reported drinking up to two drinks per day for the past year. At the start of the study, the women had a healthy balance of new bone cells forming to replace old ones that were breaking down (technically called "resorbed"). Then the researchers had them stop drinking. Within two weeks, their bones were breaking down old cells faster than they could make new ones. This imbalance over time leads to bone demineralization and osteoporosis. When the women resumed having their glass of wine (90 percent of the women were wine drinkers), their bone cell turnover ratio improved after just one day.

That amazing hormone estrogen is believed to be what's happening here. Alcohol raises levels of estrogen in postmenopausal women, and for the bones and the heart, that's a good thing. For breasts, not so much. There's the crux of the dilemma -- the estrogen that can trick your bones and heart into thinking they're young again is just too much estrogen for your girls. And at a certain point, it seems the alcohol is no longer doing your bones any favors, either. So at what point is that? We don't know. The science isn't quite there yet.

So the challenge is I want to keep you "boneable," but without risking your bones or your boobs. And I want to fight for your right to party.

The Gottfried Protocol:

Protect your girls. Try to drink only on Friday and Saturday night, only one to two drinks. Make it red wine most of the time because it's loaded with healthy goodies that may help offset the potential harmful effects of alcohol. There are other, better ways to safeguard your bones and your heart than daily drinking. Like exercise. You need to do that anyway. Not smoking, of course. Upping your calcium and vitamin D intake with a supplement. Bonus -- these will improve your sleep and your mood, unlike alcohol, which can mess with them. And you've still got dark chocolate, so it's all good.

References:

1. Bone density in relation to alcohol intake among men and women in the United States. Osteoporos Int. 2007; 18(3):391-400

2. Moderate alcohol intake lowers biochemical markers of bone turnover in postmenopausal women Menopause online July 9, 2012

Sara Gottfried, M.D., is a practicing integrative physician and author of the forthcoming book, The Hormone Cure (Scribner/Simon &Schuster, 2013). You can follow Dr. Sara on Twitter, connect with her on Facebook, watch her videos on Youtube, and subscribe to her newsletter.

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