Page last updated: Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Alcohol may offer protection against arthritis
Moderate alcohol consumption might protect against some types of arthritis, a preliminary mouse study suggests.

Mice that drank diluted ethanol were about 40% less likely to develop the autoimmune disease rheumatoid arthritis than those given water instead. Researchers say that more studies are needed to understand exactly why alcohol has this effect and whether it also protects against arthritis in humans.

Andrej Tarkowski at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and colleagues injected male mice with a type of collagen to induce rheumatoid arthritis – a disease in which the immune system starts attacking the body’s joints. Some of the animals were then given water to drink in the following weeks, while other received 10% ethanol in their drinking water.

Scientists monitored the progress of the animals over the course of the following six weeks and looked for signs of joint problems and swelling. While all of the mice that drank tap water developed rheumatoid arthritis within 42 days, only 60% of those given diluted ethanol had the disease.

Mice given the alcohol also had higher levels of the hormone testosterone, the researchers report. The team links this rise in testosterone to a decrease in the activity of the protein NF-Kappa-B, which is known to trigger the immune system to boost inflammation.

Previous research in humans has shown that alcohol consumption can depress the immune system. In fact, heavy drinkers are at greater risk of catching illnesses such as pneumonia and bacterial infections.

Experts say the short-term effects of alcohol consumption seen in the mice warrant follow-up research.

“This is an interesting and important paper,” says John Hardin, chief scientific officer at the Arthritis Foundation in Atlanta, Georgia, US. “To my knowledge this is the first time that anyone has looked at the ability of alcohol to suppress inflammatory arthritis.” But Hardin warns it is too soon to say whether people should consume alcohol to prevent against arthritis.

Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0608620104)

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