Hey, Ladies ... It's Not Beer, It's Medicine

New full-bodied research finds beer drinking increases bone mass in older women.

We at Miller-McCune carefully track countless lines of scientific research, but we keep a particularly close eye on the ongoing inquiry into whether drinking beer is good for you. Well, a newly published study suggests that if you’re an older woman concerned about bone fractures, you might want to pop into the pub for a pint.

In February, a Tufts University research report revealed that, among older adults, regular, moderate alcohol intake is associated with greater bone mineral density. Now, a Spanish study in the journal Nutrition finds that the specific type of alcoholic beverage makes a significant difference, at least for females.

Researchers from the University of Extremadura in Cacerus, led by Dr. Juan D. Pedrera-Zamorano, examined the health records of nearly 1,700 healthy women living in their region. The mean age of participants was 48.4; approximately half were premenopausal and half postmenopausal.

They found habitual beer drinkers had higher bone density than habitual wine drinkers or teetotalers. This discovery, they write, suggests that “other beer components besides alcohol” are likely at play.

While it’s unclear exactly what those components are, the researchers point to beer’s “phytoestrogen content.” (Funny – that never gets mentioned in those high-testosterone television ads during sporting events.) It turns out beer contains two phytoestrogens, apparently because “the female flowers of the hop plant have long been used as a preservative and flavoring agent.” Previous research has suggested these compounds have “a protective effect on bone.”

“Beer is also a major source of silicon,” the researchers add. “It has been demonstrated that dietary silicon intake may have salutary effects on skeletal health, especially cortical bone health in premenopausal women.”

The researchers do not recommend drinking beer to strengthen one’s bones, presumably due to the numerous health problems caused or exacerbated by excessive alcohol intake. But maintaining bone density into old age is certainly a good thing, especially given the prevalence of osteoporosis among the elderly.

The study concludes with the caveat that further research is needed to refine these results. (Will the subjects be known as Guinness pigs?). But if the benefits of beer are confirmed, the phrase “six-pack abs” may someday be replaced by “six-pack bones.”

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