The health benefits of drinking alcohol is a hotly debated subject, with many studies showing that moderate alcohol consumption can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. A new study in the Netherlands now suggests that alcohol may also reduce the risk of arthritis.
Researchers at Leiden University Medical Center surveyed nearly a thousand patients diagnosed with different types of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA), osteoarthritis and psoriatic arthritis, and found a striking inverse relationship between alcohol and early stage arthritis.
The patients, who all had arthritis for less than two years, were asked whether they consumed alcohol and the number of drinks they had per week. A control group of over 5,800 people who do not have arthritis were also asked about their alcohol consumption.
Researchers reported in the journal Rheumatology that 83% of the people in the control group drank alcohol, while only 53% to 68% of the early arthritis patients consumed alcohol. RA patients had the lowest alcohol consumption, while psoriatic arthritis patients had the highest among arthritis patients. The inverse relationship between alcohol and arthritis was greater in men than in women.
The study did not establish a cause and effect relationship between alcohol and arthritis, and researchers cautioned against drawing too many conclusions.
“Our findings can be interpreted in several ways. One hypothesis might be that alcohol may suppress both the innate and adaptive immune system leading to a decrease of joint inflammation, as has been suggested by some previous studies,” said Diane van der Woude, MD, Department of Rheumatology, Leiden University Medical Center.
“Another possible explanation for our findings is that people with arthritis drink less alcohol due to their illness. This explanation seems probable since we observed a relationship between alcohol and the level of inflammation.”
Several previous studies have suggested that alcohol may have a “protective effect” that lowers the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, but this was the first study of its kind to include patients with other types of arthritis.
“The observed differences between men and women can also be interpreted in different ways,” said van der Woude. “Perhaps men are more susceptible to the influence of alcohol on the pathophysiology of RA, or the decrease in alcohol consumption caused by the decrease in general well-being is more evident among individuals who consume more alcohol to begin with (often men) and who develop the most severe disease.”