July 12, 2012

Alcohol Possibly Reduces Development of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Connie K. Ho for - Your Universe Online

To drink or not to drink, that is the question. Recent studies have examined the effect of alcohol, especially the advantages or disadvantages of drinking for women. Researchers recently discovered that females who included three or more alcoholic drinks in their long-term lifestyle had about half the chance of developing rheumatoid arthritis (RA) as those who abstained from drinking.

Based on the results, scientists from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm believe that alcohol could help stop RA by lowering the immune system. According to the San Francisco Gate, the project focused on the alcoholic consumption and RA of 34,000 women who were born between 1914 and 1948 over a seven-year period. The team of investigators interviewed the participants twice, once in 1987 and another time ten years later. They were asked questions regarding their alcohol consumption, diet, education, physical activity, and smoking history. In the study, a drink was defined as either a small glass of wine, half a liter of beer, or a large shot; all the drinks seemed to be equally impactful. The report is published in the online version of the British Medical Journal.

“These results are in accordance with the inverse association between moderate alcohol consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease and add to the evidence that moderate alcohol consumption is not harmful,” the Swedish study authors, including Alicja Wolk and Daniela Di Giuseppe, commented in the article.

The investigators also found hat women who consumed more alcohol also had a higher tendency to smoke, which is related to RA. They discovered that moderate drinking decreased the risk for current smokers to 33%, while moderate drinking for non-smokers reduced RA risk by 62%.

"Our results suggest that moderate alcohol consumption of alcohol, approximately half a glass of alcohol per day, may reduce the risk of developing RA," lead author Daniela Di Giuseppe, a doctoral student at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, told ABC News.

The results are beneficial as approximately 400,000 people in Britain suffer from RA and it is found three times more in women than in men. Those who suffer from the disorder often deal with joint swelling and pain, which occurs as a result of the immune system targeting healthy tissue. However, medical professionals also believe that the findings should be taken with a grain of salt.

This study should not be regarded as a directive to binge drink,” noted Professor Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research UK, in an article by the Telegraph. “It must be remembered that drinking alcohol in excess can be especially dangerous in rheumatoid arthritis patients who are taking some anti-rheumatoid drugs that may cause liver damage, and anti-inflammatory painkillers which can lead to gastro-intestinal problems, which can be exacerbated by alcohol.”

Furthermore, the study corresponded to research done at Oregon State University (OSU). According to ABC News, the OSU project included 40 postmenopausal women under the age of 65 who consumed two drinks a day a year before the study was conducted. The researchers tracked what occurred when the women stopped drinking for two weeks. They found that the participants who cut alcohol had higher levels of biomarkers that were related to bone turnover, which is a process where bone is lost rather than replaced and can cause osteoporosis. When women started to consume alcohol again, the rate of bone turnover appeared to improve and alcohol was an advantage to the postmenopausal women.

As such, researchers believe that the results may show how alcohol can increase estrogen levels, which may then affect factors of women´s health like arthritis or osteoporosis. Alcohol can also heighten HDL, otherwise known as “good” cholesterol, and improve blood pressure or other factors related to cardiovascular disease. However, even with these positive results, physicians believe that women must be careful when drinking alcohol, as too much heavy drinking is not healthy. Some studies have even shown that a drink a day could increase a woman´s chance of developing breast cancer. A few experts believe that alcohol is liquid calories and drinking can lead to weight gain or other issues related to unhealthy lifestyles.

"If someone enjoys social drinking, that's fine. But you shouldn't start drinking and change your lifestyle to get these benefits," commented Holly Thacker, director of the Center for Specialized Women's Health at the Cleveland Clinic, in the ABC News article. "We never would tell someone to drink to reduce their risk."