WEDNESDAY, May 7, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Having a beer a few
times a week might help women avoid painful rheumatoid arthritis, a
new study suggests.
The disease, which affects women more than men, is a form of
arthritis linked to immune system dysfunction. According to the
Arthritis Foundation, over 1.5 million Americans suffer from the
disease, which typically begins in the 20s or 30s.
However, "long-term, moderate alcohol drinking may reduce future
rheumatoid arthritis development" in women, said lead researcher
Dr. Bing Lu, an assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and
Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, in Boston.
Overall, moderate use of any form of alcohol reduced the risk by
about 21 percent, but moderate beer drinking -- two to four beers
per week -- cut women's odds for the disease by nearly a third, the
The findings are published in the spring 2014 issue of
Arthritis & Rheumatism.
In their research, Lu's group tracked the drinking habits of
women in two large studies, the Nurses' Health Study and the
Nurses' Health Study II. The first study began in 1976, and
includes more than 121,000 registered nurses. The second includes
more than 116,00 nurses, and started in 1989. Women answered
questions about their health and lifestyle every two years and
about diet, including alcohol consumption, every four years.
Long-term moderate alcohol drinking appeared to reduce the risk
of getting rheumatoid arthritis, Lu said. But drinking a few beers
per week seemed to have the best effect, providing a 31 percent
reduction in risk.
Lu said his team can't yet explain how beer and other alcohol
might reduce a woman's risk for rheumatoid arthritis. He also
doesn't know if the findings would apply to men. "We don't know for
men," Lu said, "but rheumatoid arthritis is primarily a woman's
The new study does echo some previous research, noted one
expert, Dr. Len Horovitz, an internist at Lenox Hill Hospital in
New York City.
"There is a correlation between alcohol and a reduced risk of rheumatoid arthritis over time," he said, citing other studies. However, that doesn't mean that one necessarily leads to the other -- "there is a correlation [shown here], not cause and effect," Horovitz said.
howa little alcohol may reduce a woman's odds for the joint
malady is complicated, he said. "The mechanism of action is very
complex," Horovitz said, involving immune system activity and other
Dr. Daniel Arkfeld, an associate professor of clinical medicine
at the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California,
Los Angeles, called the findings "astonishing."
He also pointed to prior studies that have linked moderate
alcohol intake with lower rheumatoid arthritis risk, but added that
none had focused on beer specifically.
It's possible that alcohol may work to boost levels of estrogen,
which is protective against rheumatoid arthritis, Arkfeld said.
The new findings might be especially relevant for someone with a
family history of the disease, added Dr. Scott Zashin, a
rheumatologist in Dallas and a member of the media committee for
the American College of Rheumatology.
"The likelihood of someone developing rheumatoid arthritis is not common," Zashin said. "But if you have a family history, your risk increases."
He said that "patients with a family history might enjoy a beer
a few times a week if there is no other reason not to drink."
But while imbibing the occasional drink may be good for your
health, Horovitz stressed that excessive drinking is never a good
idea. Nor is the new finding a reason for people who don't drink
beer to start doing so, he said.
Arkfeld offered one more caveat, noting that alcohol does not
mix well with certain rheumatoid arthritis drugs due to the risk of
liver effects. So in those who already have rheumatoid arthritis,
checking with your doctor before upping your alcohol intake is
advised, he said.
There's more on rheumatoid arthritis at the
American College of Rheumatology.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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