A Swedish study reports that long-term alcohol consumption greatly reduces the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. Women who drank more than three glasses of alcohol per week were 37 percent less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis (RA) than women who don't drink. Women who drank one or two glasses per week could expect up to 14 percent lower risk when compared to nondrinkers.
The study, recently published on the website of the British Medical Journal, followed Swedish women from 1987 to 1997, surveying them about their lifestyle habits. Drinking habits were compared to bouts of joint inflammation. Followup surveys were conducted with the surviving 34,141 women between 2003 and 2009, with similar results.
The study authors stated, and confirmed with their own data, that short-term alcohol consumption can immediately reduce the chance of RA inflammation. But the researchers wanted to know if long-term regular and responsible drinking also helped prevent the autoimmune response that causes RA flareups.
According to the lead author Daniela Di Giuseppe, a Ph.D. student at the division of nutritional epidemiology at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, it appears so. "We observed that the greater benefit was for long-term consumption of alcohol," Giuseppe told Wine Spectator. "Therefore I think that our results are of interest for everyone, not only the elderly."
Giuseppe said that alcohol acts against the disease by regulating autoimmune responses, decreasing the production of chemicals that cause inflammation. Giuseppe and her team believe alcohol helps mitigate the activity of cytokines, proteins used in intercellular communication.
Giuseppe added that even though most of the women preferred wine or beer, it is likely the alcohol itself provides the arthritis protection. "When we analyzed the types of alcohol separately, we did not observe any difference," Giuseppe said, warning against changing drinking habits. "However, it is better to be cautious until other prospective studies confirm our results."