Researchers in Sweden have found that drinking an average of five to 10 glasses of wine per week may cut the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis by up to 50 percent, compared with the risk to nondrinkers.
The research, conducted by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and slated for publication in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, found the results to be generally applicable to those who responsibly consume any type of alcohol, but "the most common alcoholic beverage was wine," said lead author Henrik Källberg. "We did, however, separate different beverages and could not detect any significant differences."
Several studies have suggested that responsible consumption of alcohol helps prevent arthritis, as well as other degenerative bone diseases. However, most of these studies' subjects were mice, including a study published last year by a team of researchers at Göteborg University in Sweden, and none take into account genetic factors believed to be linked to the pathology of this disease.
The Karolinska researchers looked at data on more than 2,750 people taking part in two separate studies, one in Sweden and one in Denmark, that assess environmental and genetic risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis. Both studies ran from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s.
Volunteers answered lifestyle questionnaires, and blood samples were taken to check for genetic risk factors, such as the presence of a certain type of protein antibodies, known as ACPAs. Smokers with these antibodies are especially at risk, the research found.
Källberg and his team compared the rate of arthritis among the categories of drinkers in the surveys. Subjects were classified as either nondrinkers, those who consumed up to five drinks a week and those who consumed five or more drinks a week.
Källberg explained that the average drinker in the Swedish study drank about five drinks per week, while in Denmark it was closer to nine or 10 drinks per week. They couldn't measure the effects of heavier consumption in this population, the study adds.
Overall, they found that drinking five or more servings of alcohol weekly was associated with a 40 percent to 50 percent lower risk of developing arthritis, compared with nondrinkers. Those who drank up to five drinks per week showed a 20 percent lower risk when averaged. Those at the greatest risk were smokers who tested ACPA positive, with a 420 percent greater risk than drinkers who reported never smoking.
The study report points out a potential flaw in the results—it is, "methodologically demanding to investigate the relationship between two lifestyle factors—alcohol and smoking—and one genetic factor." Källberg also warned against changing alcohol consumption habits based on the results. "It is too early to give recommendations for preventive drinking, as more research is needed," he said.
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