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Good For Your Bones: Beer

A study recently conducted in Spain revealed that women who drink beer daily, or nearly so, have stronger bone density and have a lower risk of developing osteoporosis later in life. The study, published in the June edition of Nutrition, speculates that “the high level of silicon in beer slows down the thinning that leads to fractures and boosts the formation of new bone. Beer is also rich in phytoestrogens, plant versions of oestrogen, which keep bones healthy.”

According to the Full Text of the Study:

Of the nearly 1700 women who took part in the study, there “were 793 (46.7%) who drank beer habitually. Two hundred fifty-seven (15.1%) subjects drank wine habitually, 374 (22.0%) subjects smoked, and among these 209 (12.3% of total) were beer drinkers. Postmenopausal women drank less beer than premenopausal and perimenopausal women.”

For postmenopausal women, circulating estrogen concentrations have been shown to be positively associated with alcohol intake. Our findings, of higher Ad-SoS in premenopausal and postmenopausal women who drink, support the idea that the bone-enhancing effects of alcohol might be partially due to a promotion of endogenous estrogens synthesis. Although wine at low doses, and in an acute form, has been observed to have an estrogenic effect, there have been no indications of pathways for its effect on bone other than its stimulation of the syntheses of estrogens and, because of its alcohol content, of calcitonin. This may explain the difference in our results, which were positive for the consumption of beer but not significant for the consumption of wine.

Beer is also a major source of silicon in the form of orthosilicic acid. In fact, it has been suggested that beer is one of the most important sources of silicon in the Western diet. Moreover, it has been demonstrated that dietary silicon intake may have salutary effects on skeletal health, especially cortical bone health in premenopausal women, although not in postmenopausal women. Despite a positive correlation also taking place in the postmenopausal group, we believe that this positive effect on bone might be due to the synergic effect of a combination of silicon and phytoestrogen (daidzein, genistein, and others) compounds in beer. These positive effects of silicon on the bone in postmenopause seem to occur when silicon supplementation is given to prevent bone mass loss. In fact, oral silicon is reported to completely abrogate the loss of bone mass.

In this study, we do not recommend the consumption of beer, wine, or any other alcoholic beverage for bone health; nevertheless, we have been able to verify that beer ingestion, a common component within our area’s diet, seems to provide bone mass with beneficial effects for those women who had moderate alcohol consumption. This was a cross-sectional study with certain limitations, which reflects associations but does not reveal causes and effects. A common problem with studies using dietetic questionnaires is the fact that some subjects could have difficulty recalling type and frequency of ingested food. This is a minor problem with respect to beer consumption because its quantification is easy and precise, since it is available only in 200-mL and 330-mL bottles at supermarkets in our area. Our study design did not include the measurements of plasma levels of phytoestrogens.

In conclusion, the consumption of beer, apart from its alcohol content, favors greater bone mass in women independently of their gonadal status. This might be a result of the phytoestrogen content of this alcoholic drink, which requires further investigation.

Despite their chickening out from actually recommending people drink beer for their health, the conclusions of the study nonetheless support doing just that. Another study by Tufts University earlier this year came to the same conclusion.

So why is it so difficult for scientists to just admit what’s right in front of their faces? That the moderate consumption of beer is really good for you. The only reasons I can think of is that they’re either afraid of having research grant money dry up for not reaching the “correct” conclusions or because they, too, have inadvertently drank the Kool-Aid and internalized the decades of prohibitionist propaganda. In the latter case — and I think this is true of many otherwise typical people — years and years of neo-prohibitionist groups having the only voice without dissenting opinions allowed have left many believing a series of premises that are simply not true or at best grossly exaggerated. That seems to me the only rational explanation of why it’s seemingly so difficult for many similar scientific studies to draw the logical conclusion from the data. Of course, it may simply be a liability issue and they’re afraid of being sued when people begin drinking more based on the studies.

Drink up ladies! A beer a day may keep the doctor away.

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