A Swedish study investigating the effect of alcohol on rheumatoid arthritis risk in women included more than 34,000 Swedish women born between 1914 and 1948. Researchers gathered information about their alcohol consumption, diet, smoking history, physical activity and education in 1987 and 1997. Participants were then followed for seven years. During this time, nearly 200 women were diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.
Women who reported drinking more than three glasses of alcohol per week in both 1987 and 1997 were 52% less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than their teetotal counterparts.
A difference in risk, although less marked, existed when light drinkers were included with nondrinkers. In that case, women who drank more than more four glasses of alcohol per week had a 37% lower risk for rheumatoid arthritis. These findings held regardless of what beverage the women consumed.
It is not understood exactly how alcohol may lower arthritis risk. The researchers speculate that it may turn down the body’s immune system and decrease the production of proteins involved in the inflammatory process. Inflammation is a hallmark of rheumatoid arthritis.
“This study adds more fuel to the fire regarding the beneficial effects of modest amounts of alcohol,” said Dr Martin Jan Bergman, a clinical associate professor of medicine at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. “This is one of multiple studies that have shown that alcohol can have a beneficial effect on risk for [rheumatoid arthritis.” But he stressed that the key word is ‘moderate’.
Source: Martin Jan Bergman, M.D., clinical associate professor, medicine, Drexel University College of Medicine, Philadelphia; David Pisetsky, M.D., chief, rheumatology, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C.; July 10, 2012, BMJ, online