In a study that followed 2,900 adults with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), Swiss researchers found that light-to-moderate drinkers showed slower progression in their joint damage compared with non-drinkers. Heavy drinkers, on the other hand, showed the greatest progression.
The findings are based on X-ray evidence of patients’ joint damage and its progression over an average of four years. According to Dr. Axel Finckh, of University Hospital of Geneva, one of the researchers on the study, the difference seen in moderate drinkers’ and non-drinkers’ progression was not substantial enough to be apparent in daily life but if the slower progression were maintained over decades, it could become important. The findings are in line with past research linking moderate drinking to a lower risk of developing RA according to Finckh and his colleagues.
The the study was based on 2,908 Swiss adults who were part of a national database on RA patients. All had had at least two sets of X-rays of their hands and feet over time, and had been followed for four years, on average. 37% were non-drinkers at the outset, while the rest drank at least occasionally. The researchers found that both occasional drinkers and those who drank once per day generally had less joint damage progression over time than non-drinkers.
Study patients’ drinking habits remained linked to RA progression when the researchers accounted for a number of other factors, including age, RA medication use, smoking and the length of time each patient had had the disease.
The relationship between drinking and joint damage progression was stronger among men than women, however. That sex difference was unexpected, according to Finckh and his colleagues, and the reasons for it are not clear. One possibility, they note, is the overall difference in alcohol “dose” between men and women; 27 % of men said they drank once per day, versus only 14 % of women.
The researchers conclude that if people with RA already drink moderately, they should not be encouraged to stop.
Source: Arthritis & Rheumatism, online March 8, 2010.