#1: People who want to avoid osteopenia should not drink alcohol.
Findings: An occasional drink may actually be good for your
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.
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
Increased estrogen levels which in turn cause
breast cancer risk
Decreased risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis / Increased bone
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.
#2: Vegetarians have stronger bones than nonvegetarians.
Findings: A recent study found that women who ate the most
animal protein actually had the lowest incidence of hip
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.
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
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.
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