Moderate Alcohol Intake May Reduce RA Risk in Women

Women who drink moderate amounts of alcohol may be less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis (RA) than non-drinkers. These results were published in the British Medical Journal. 

Rheumatoid arthritis affects an estimated 1.3 million adults in theUnited States. The condition causes pain, swelling, and stiffness of joints, and can lead to permanent joint damage. 

RA is an autoimmune disease. An autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system—which normally protects the body from infection—turns against some of the body’s own tissues. The causes of RA are unknown, but factors that increase the likelihood of RA include being female, smoking, and having a family history of rheumatoid arthritis.

Another factor that may affect RA risk is alcohol. Moderate alcohol intake has been linked with health benefits (such as a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease) as well as risks (such as an increased risk of certain types of cancer).

To explore how alcohol intake affects risk of RA in women, researchers inSwedenconducted a study among more than 34,000 women who were born between 1914 and 1948.

  • Compared with non-drinkers and women who consumed less than one drink per week, women who consumed more than four alcoholic beverages per week were 37% less likely to develop RA.
  • Long-term consumption of more than three glasses of alcohol per week was linked with a more than 50% reduction in risk of RA.
  • The reduced risk of RA associated with moderate alcohol intake was similar for beer, wine, and liquor.

These results suggest (but do not prove) that moderate alcohol intake reduces the risk of RA in women. The study was observational, which means that the scientists did not control what study participants did; rather, the scientists observed what happened after the study participants made their own decisions about health behaviors such as alcohol intake. Results from observational studies are generally not as definitive as results from randomized clinical trials, but they are worth considering as part of the overall body of evidence on a topic. 

Although this study adds to the list of possible health benefits from moderate alcohol consumption, it’s important to keep in mind that alcohol consumption also has risks such as addiction and an increased risk of certain types of cancer, including breast cancer. Women may wish to discuss their individual situation and intake with their physician. It’s also important to note that the results of this study do not apply to women who already have RA.

Reference: Di Giuseppe D, Alfredsson L, Bottai M, Askling J, Wolk A. Long term alcohol intake and risk of rheumatoid arthritis in women: a population based cohort study. BMJ. Early online publication July 10, 2012.

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