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Heavy Alcohol Use Leads to Greater Muscle Loss After Menopause, Study Finds

Mary Caffrey
While alcohol is known to limit skeletal muscle growth, few studies have looked at the relationship between sarcopenia and problem drinking.
Alcohol appears to exacerbate the effects of muscle loss that comes with menopause, according to a study of Korean women published Wednesday in the journal Menopause.

Sarcopenia, an age-related process known to occur in women after menopause, causes a loss of muscle mass and strength, cardiometabolic diseases, loss of balance, and other disorders. The study authors say high-risk drinking is also associated with diabetes, hypertension, and dyslipidemia, which are controllable risk factors for sarcopenia. Yet, few studies have been done to show how heavy drinking directly causes the postmenopausal condition.

The study from Korea included 2373 postmenopausal women, average age 62.4 years, including 8.2% who were identified as having sarcopenia. The study participants were placed in 3 groups, based on their responses to questions on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test.

Results showed that prevalence of sarcopenia increased along with alcohol use: it was seen in 7.6% of the low-risk drinkers, 11% of the moderate-risk drinkers, and 22.7% of the high-risk drinkers. Compared with the low-risk drinkers, the odds ratio of having sarcopenia was 4.29, after adjusting for age, body mass index, blood pressure, and other factors.

Women who were high-risk drinkers were also more likely to be smokers and had worse blood pressure and total cholesterol. They were much younger, the study found.

“Preclinical studies suggest a possible benefit of estrogen therapy when combined with exercise to increase strength and performance and to prevent the loss of muscle mass, but the role of estrogen in muscle mass is not yet clear for postmenopausal women,” JoAnn Pinkerton, MD, of the University of Virginia School of Medicine, said in a statement. Pinkerton is executive director of the North American Menopause Society, which published the study.

While there have long been debates about whether a glass of wine a day is healthy, another recent study suggests that women entering menopause should cut back on alcohol. Two weeks ago, a study by the American Institute of Cancer Research reported that 10 grams of alcohol a day—equivalent to a small glass of wine—could raise breast cancer risk 9% in postmenopausal women.


Kwon YJ, Lim HJ, Lee YJ et al. Associations between high-risk alcohol consumption and sarcopenia among postmenopausal women [published online June 7, 2017]. Menopause. DOI: 10.1097/GME.0000000000000879.

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