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A link between tequila and osteoporosis

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Researchers in Mexico have raised the possibility of a new treatment for osteoporosis based on an extract from the plant that is the source of Mexico’s well known spirit drink, tequila.

Tequila is produced from the blue agave, Agave tequilana, a cactus-like succulent. The drink is made by heating the plant’s starch-rich heart to convert the starches to sugars, which are then fermented and distilled.

For some time it has been suspected that blue agave may contain substances of potential benefit to people with osteoporosis. This disease, according to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, affects 200 million people worldwide and is the most common cause of broken bones in the elderly.

But if you have osteoporosis I wouldn’t recommend hitting the tequila bottle as a quick fix, for two good reasons. First, any potential anti-osteoporotic agents in the agave fermentation liquor will be left behind in the distillation process. Secondly, drinking more than a couple of units of alcohol a day is believed to raise the risk of osteoporotic fracture — even though alcohol consumption can actually increase bone density.

Researchers at Mexico’s Centre for Research and Advanced Studies have shown that blue agave contains fructans (polymers of fructose molecules) that can improve the absorption of calcium and magnesium from the digestion tract. These minerals are both essential in maintaining bone health. When ingested, the agave fructans remain intact until they reach the large intestine, where bacteria ferment them into short-chain fatty acids that help transport minerals through the gut wall.

The research team conducted various experiments with animal models, including a procedure that involved removing the ovaries from female mice to induce osteoporosis. After an eight-week administration of agave fructans, bone samples were taken from the femur to measure mineral absorption and osteocalcin, a protein that indicates the production of new bone.

The researchers found that fructan-eating mice synthesised nearly 50% more osteocalcin than a control group and had bones of a greater diameter.

The research team is now looking for funding to carry out clinical studies to prove that an agave extract can be used as an adjuvant in the treatment of osteoporosis. But they warn that success depends on having a healthy intestinal microbiome.

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