DAILY drinking over years can reduce the chances of elderly people breaking their bones, research from the United States has revealed.
And the more you drink, it appears, the more likely you are to have stronger bones in later life.
The surprising finding comes from a study of social drinking, going back 18 years, in a retirement community in California. It shows that taking two or three drinks a day - or more - improves bone mineral density and seems to act against natural bone loss in later life.
'What is exciting is that the protection seems to be good for men as well as women,' Professor Troy Holbrook, of the Department of Community and Family Medicine at the University of California, said.
The study, in tomorrow's British Medical Journal, looked at the drinking habits of 182 men and 267 women and then measured their bone density. The women were consistently taking six to 15 or more drinks, equivalent to a measure of spirit or glass of wine, a week and the men 11 to 23 or more.
'We do not really know what the biological mechanism is that gives this effect or whether or not someone in their 60s who did not drink, and then started to, would get this protection,' she said.
There is some evidence that alcohol encourages the production of hormones, and post-menopausal women, who are not producing oestrogen suffer from bone loss, more than men.
Previous research has indicated that drinkers were more likely to suffer fractures. But Professor Holbrook said the studies mostly involved alcoholics who were more likely to fall over and be in poor health.