British researchers who looked at the relationship between diet and fracture risk found moderate amounts of wine appeared to boost bone density in the spine. But other alcoholic drinks, such as beer and spirits, did not have the same effect. The results, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, come from a study involving over 1,000 pairs of female twins in Britain aged in their mid-fifties. Although some smaller studies have suggested alcohol might have a protective effect, heavy drinking is known to be a major risk factor for weak bones. Osteoporosis is a bone-wasting disease that affects an estimated three million people in the UK.
One in three women and one in 12 men develop it at some point in their lives. Women who use steroid drugs, smoke, drink heavily and have a family history of the disease are most at risk.
It progresses when osteoclasts, cells that break down old bone by removing the calcium and phosphorous that gives it strength, start to outnumber osteoblasts, rival cells responsible for making healthy new bone. Right the way through life old bone is being destroyed by osteoclasts and new bone is formed by osteoblasts. But after the ages of 30 to 35, there are fewer osteoblasts than osteoclasts. Osteoporosis develops when the balance tips too far in favour of the osteoclasts. With an ageing population, the NHS faces an increasing burden from fractures.
In the latest study, scientists from the University of East Anglia and Kings College London studied dietary patterns in post-menopausal twins to see how food and drink related to the number of broken bones.
After quizzing volunteers on their eating and drinking habits, researchers carried out scans to measure the thickness of their bones in the hip joint, the spine and the top of the femur - the major bone linking the thigh to the hip.
The results showed wine drinkers had higher bone density in the spine and the hip than non-drinkers, or those that preferred other types of alcohol. Researchers did not find any substantial benefit to bones from a diet high in fruit and vegetables but did discover a traditional English diet of fish and chips, baked beans, meat pies and cooked meats had a damaging effect on bone strength.
In a report on their findings the researchers said: 'Moderate intakes of alcohol from wine were associated with a higher bone mineral density and the consumption of a traditional 20th-century English diet was linked with a lower bone density."It's not clear how wine can build bone strength but previous research suggests it may be due to chemicals, called polyphenols, found in the skin of grapes rather than the alcohol it contains.