Washington: A new study has found that drinking alcohol may reduce the severity of rheumatoid arthritis.
This is the first time that this effect has been shown in humans. The study also showed that alcohol consumption reduces the risk of developing the disease.
The study looked at 873 patients with rheumatoid arthritis and compared them with 1004 people without RA (the control group).
The researchers, led by Gerry Wilson, Professor of Rheumatology at the University of Sheffield (Sheffield, UK), asked the two groups how frequently they had drunk alcohol in the month preceding their inclusion in the study.
The study participants completed a detailed questionnaire, had x-rays and blood tests, and an experienced research nurse examined their joints.
The first author of the study, Dr James Maxwell, a consultant rheumatologist at the Rotherham Foundation NHS Trust and an honorary senior clinical lecturer in the Academic Rheumatology Group at the University of Sheffield, said: "We found that patients who had drunk alcohol most frequently had symptoms that were less severe than those who had never drunk alcohol or only drunk it infrequently. X-rays showed there was less damage to joints, blood tests showed lower levels of inflammation, and there was less joint pain, swelling and disability. This is the first time that a dose dependent inverse association between frequency of alcohol consumption and severity of RA has been shown in humans."
Maxwell and his colleagues also found that non-drinkers were four times more likely to develop RA than people who drank alcohol on more than ten days a month.
"This finding agrees with the results from previous studies that have shown a decreased susceptibility to developing RA among alcohol drinkers," said Maxwell.
Writing in their paper, the study authors concluded: "While there are a number of limitations to the methodology of this study, the results do suggest that the consumption of alcohol may modify RA, influencing both risk and severity."
The study has been published online in the journal Rheumatology.