Alcohol Lowers Arthritis, Osteoporosis Risk

on July 11, 2012 1:54 PM EDT

Alcohol
Moderate alcohol consumption is good for women, according to a new study (Photo: Reuters)

Moderate alcohol consumption is good for women, according to a new study published in the British Medical Journal on Tuesday. Alcohol helps strengthen women's bones so well that women who stopped drinking for just two weeks saw a significant decline in bone density, researchers said.

The study looked at more than 34,000 women born between 1918 and 1948. Researchers collected data on their alcohol consumption in 1987 and 1997, and then followed up in 2009. Throughout the course of the study, 200 women developed rheumatoid arthritis. An analysis revealed that women who had three or more glasses of alcohol per week were 52 percent less likely to develop arthritis.

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Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to attack healthy tissue, causing inflammation. Researchers said alcohol may reduce the risk of developing arthritis because it lowers the body's immune response.

"This study adds more fuel to the fire regarding the beneficial effects of alcohol," Dr. Martin Jan Bergman, a clinical associate professor of medicine at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, told HealthDay.

In a second study, published in the journal Menopause on Wednesday, researchers found that alcohol consumption can help prevent bone loss and osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis mainly affects women -- 8 million women have the disease compared to 2 million men, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.  The disease typically affects people over the age of 50; European or Asian decedents have a higher risk.

Risk factors for osteoporosis include age, gender and family history as well as controllable risk factors such as poor diet or lifestyle choices.

One of the biggest controllable risk factors is low calcium intake, according to the Mayo Clinic. A lack of calcium contributes to poor bone density and bone loss. Other dietary factors include a high protein diet and daily consumption of cola.

Researchers looked at 40 menopausal women who regularly had one or two drinks per week. They asked them to stop drinking, and after two weeks, all of the women showed higher bone turnover, which results in weakened bones and is a risk factor for osteoporosis. After the women started drinking again, bone turnover rates decreased within 24 hours.

"Drinking moderately as part of a healthy lifestyle that includes a good diet and exercise may be beneficial for bone health, especially in postmenopausal women," Dr. Urszula Iwaniec, study author and associate professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU, said in a press release. "After less than 24 hours to see such a measurable effect was really unexpected."

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