Is Alcohol Good for Arthritis?

Studies suggest that men and women who routinely drink more than three alcoholic beverages a week have a significantly lower risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis (and less severe symptoms if they do develop the disease) than those who have fewer drinks or none at all.

The Evidence
Drinking alcohol does not cure rheumatoid arthritis (RA), but moderate amounts may help prolong its onset and delay progression in some women once it develops, according to a study published in a July 2012 online edition of the British Medical Journal.  The findings were the same regardless of whether the women drank beer, wine, or spirits.

Previous studies have produced similar results. A study published in a 2010 issue of Rheumatology found that men and women with RA who drank frequently had less severe disease symptoms than those who didn't drink much or at all. This study also found that non-drinkers had four times higher risk of developing RA than people who drank often.

The Theory
The researchers suspect that the link between alcohol and RA is due to the depressive effect of alcohol on the body's immune system. Since RA is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks its own cells, and alcohol reduces the immune system's ability to attack, the cells that line the joints of those who drink a small but steady supply of alcohol may be better protected.

The Downside
There are negative effects of drinking alcohol, and several of them can be especially harmful for people with arthritis. People who drink have a higher risk of developing gout, which can affect the joints in the feet, knees, and hands-and drinking can cause more painful gout once the condition develops. Excessive alcohol doesn't mix well with many arthritis medications and can contribute to obesity, which puts excess weight on the joints. And anyone who suffers from multiple medical conditions may have good reasons not to drink alcohol, regardless of its effect on RA.

The Conclusions
Moderate drinking is considered safe for most adults and, under some circumstances, may be beneficial to the health in many ways. Moderation means just one drink a day for women and one to two drinks a day for men, at least several days a week.  More than that, and your risk of complications may outweigh your chance of benefits.

None of the researchers recommend drinking alcohol as a treatment for RA and more thorough studies must be performed before any recommendations can be made. Meanwhile, if you take prescription or over-the-counter medication for RA or any other medical condition, speak with your doctor about how much, if any, alcohol is safe for you. And if you rarely drink, or don't drink at all, speak with your doctor before you change your habits.



Arthritis Today: All About Gout

Giuseppe, D. et al; "Long Term Alcohol Intake and Risk of Rheumatoid Arthritis in Women: A Population Based Cohort Study."  British Medical Journal 2012;345:e4230 Web. August 2012

Harvard School of Public Health: Alcohol: The Bottom Line

Maxwell, J. et al; "Alcohol Consumption is Inversely Associated with Risk and Severity of Rheumatoid Arthritis." Rheumatology 28 July 2010. Web August 2012