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Common Myths About

Osteopenia

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Myth #1: People who want to avoid osteopenia should not drink alcohol.

Research Findings: An occasional drink may actually be good for your bones.

Many people assume that because of the numerous adverse health conditions frequently associated with alcohol use, that alcohol must also be bad for bone health, too. However, what is commonly believed is not necessarily what is true. While many studies have linked alcoholism (excessive alcohol use) with lowered bone density and increased fracture risk, a number of recent research studies have found that moderate alcohol use may actually increase bone density. In a study conducted by researchers from the Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, it was found that moderate alcohol consumption helped to maintain bone density in postmenopausal women. One of the reasons the researchers speculated for this increase in bone density the alcohol drinkers may have been because of an increase in estrogen levels in the drinkers.

How this finding fits in with other bone density / osteopenia research: There are a large number of studies linking increased estrogen levels to higher bone density. A medical mainstay treatment for osteopenia and osteoporosis in recent years has been hormone replacement therapy, which builds stronger bones by increasing a woman's estrogen levels. However, HRT usage is coming under quite a bit of scrutiny these days because the higher levels of estrogen caused by HRT have been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer and more recently Alzheimer's disease. According to a report that appeared on the National Institute of Medicine's web site, "US healthcare officials are planning to reassess the benefits of estrogen-containing hormone replacement products in response to a recently halted study that unveiled potentially serious side effects in postmenopausal women. Performed as part of the US government-sponsored Women's Health Initiative (WHI), the study was halted 3 years earlier than expected because of emerging evidence showing a small yet statistically significant increase in the risk of heart disease, breast cancer, stroke and blood clots." So it seems that HRT may solve some health problems, such as osteopenia and osteoporosis, and yet cause others.

There are a large number of studies linking both alcohol use and increased estrogen levels to breast cancer. A 1998 paper appearing in the Journal of American Medicine, entitled Alcohol and Breast Cancer in Women, the authors concluded after reviewing numerous studies on the subject that alcohol consumption increases breast cancer risk among women. Their paper also referred to a number of research studies that found higher levels of estrogen in drinkers versus nondrinkers.

Interestingly, a number of studies have found a correlation between bone density and breast cancer risk. A recent article that was on the American Medical Association web site noted that a team of researchers from University of Pittsburgh Medical Center have found bone mineral density (BMD) is a powerful predictor of breast cancer risk in older women. The team found that "Women with high density at three skeletal sites are almost three times more likely to develop breast cancer as women with low density...".

Logically then all of these studies may fit together like pieces from a puzzle, which could be represented graphically as:


Moderate
alcohol use causes

|
V

Increased estrogen levels which in turn cause
|
V

I
ncreased breast cancer risk
Decreased risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis / Increased bone density

Perhaps there is a balance point for each person in which estrogen levels are high enough to keep bones strong and yet low enough to prevent breast cancer. Based on current research findings, a logical conclusion would be that moderate alcohol use may be beneficial for women who are at risk for osteopenia, but should be avoided by women who already have dense bones and/or are at risk for breast cancer.

 


 

Myth #2: Vegetarians have stronger bones than nonvegetarians.

Research Findings: A recent study found that women who ate the most animal protein actually had the lowest incidence of hip fractures.

In a 1999 paper appearing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Utah State researchers reported that women who consumed the most animal protein had the least amount of hip fractures. Interestingly, even though calcium and vitamin D treatments two of the most common treatments for osteoporosis and osteopenia prevention in the U.S. and other Western countries, the researchers in this study did not find a correlation between the risk of hip fracture and calcium or vitamin D intakes.

Research Findings: Women who eat relatively higher levels of protein have the highest bone mineral density.

In a 2003 research study, also appearing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers from Creighton University found that "a higher intake of protein was associated with higher BMD" (bone mineral density) in a study group comprised of elderly women.

Research Findings: Long-term practitioners of vegan vegetarian diets (people who avoid not just meat but all animal products, including milk and honey) were found to be at a higher risk of fractures and osteopenia.

In a study from Taiwan, researchers from the Kaohsiung Medical College examined bone density among 258 postmenopausal Taiwanese vegetarian women. They found that long-term practitioners of vegan vegetarianism were found to be at a higher risk of lumbar spine fracture and of being classified as having osteopenia of the femoral neck.

Return to => Part I

 

 

Related pages:

Foods for strong bones - Diet tips to keep bones strong and healthy.

Exercise for strong bones - Workout tips to prevent osteoporosis.

 

Stop by my connective tissue disorder home page complete with a site map, search feature for more information on bone health and connective tissue disorders.

For a list of books that helped my connective tissue disorder symptoms, including my fibromyalgia, TMJ, MVP and scoliosis, please see my recommended book list.

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