Drinking one or two alcoholic beverages several times a week may improve the bone health of older women and reduce their risk for osteoporosis, a small study suggests.

Bones are living tissue with old bone continually removed and replaced in a process called remodeling. In people with the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis, more bone is lost than replaced. Postmenopausal women are at particular risk because of reduced estrogen, a hormone essential for bone strength, the researchers explained.

"This study clearly demonstrates that even small amounts of alcohol have potent actions and can rapidly impact bone metabolism," said lead researcher Urszula Iwaniec, an associate professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University.

Roughly half of all U.S. women and one-fourth of men will break a bone because of osteoporosis, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which provided partial funding for the study. Because prescription drugs aimed at preventing or treating osteoporosis are expensive and can create unpleasant side effects, it is important to identify lifestyle factors that protect the bones, the study authors said.

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