Drink up to prevent rheumatoid arthritis

Drinking more than 4 alcoholic beverages per week reduces risk of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in women by about 37% compared with women who drink less than 1 alcohol-containing beverage weekly or who never drink, according to the findings of a recent study published in the British Medical Journal.

Drink up to prevent rheumatoid arthritis

  • Drinking >3 alcoholic beverage per week reduced RA risk

  • Benefits of moderate drinking increased over time

  • Effect hypothesized as result of down-regulation of immune system

Drinking more than 4 alcoholic beverages per week reduces risk of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in women by about 37% compared with women who drink less than 1 alcohol-containing beverage weekly or who never drink, according to the findings of a recent study published in the British Medical Journal.

And the benefits over time are even greater, say the investigators. Women who reported drinking > 3 alcoholic beverages per week (wine, beer, liquor, or any combination) in both 1987 and 1997 had a 52% reduced risk, compared with women who never drank.

Researchers from Sweden used The Swedish Mammography Cohort, a population-based cohort from central Sweden, to investigate the association. All of the women, born between 1914 and 1948, filled out a detailed questionnaire about alcohol consumption and other factors, including smoking, in 1987 and again in 1997. For the purposes of the study, the researchers considered a glass of alcohol-whether it be wine, beer, or liquor-to contain 15 g of ethanol.

During the 7-year follow-up period, 197 cases of RA occurred among the 34,141 women participating. The investigators found that regular drinkers favored wine over beer or liquor and were more likely to smoke than occasional or nondrinkers. Women who consumed more than 4 drinks weekly tended to be younger and more likely to smoke than women who drank less. Of the women who developed RA, 53% consumed ≤2 drinks weekly; 33% consumed ≥2 drinks weekly.

The investigators note that their findings are in line with case-control studies conducted previously on the topic; however, previous prospective cohort studies failed to show any significant association. They hypothesize that the effect is the result of alcohol down-regulating the immune response and decreasing production of proinflammatory cytokines.

The findings add to the growing body of evidence suggesting that moderate alcohol consumption is not harmful and, in fact, may offer protection against certain chronic diseases. The researchers point out, however, that the effects of heavier drinking on RA risk are unknown.

Read other articles in this issue of Special Delivery