Alcohol consumption has been linked with a decrease in risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, according to an article released on June 5, 2008 in the BMJ specialist journal Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.

Arthritis is a disease that involves damage to the joints of the body. Rheumatoid arthritis is specifically a type of damage caused by autoimmune attack resulting in inflammation of the protective cartilage. It commonly affects multiple joints at once, and can result in severe deformation of the joints themselves.

More than 2,750 subjects were examined in two separate studies regarding various environmental and genetic risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis. These included survey questions about lifestyle, specifically, how much they smoked and drank. Separately, blood samples were taken and examined for genetic risk factors. Nearly half of the participants (1650 subjects) suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, and their non-arthritic counterparts were similarly distributed in terms of sex, age, and residential location.

Drinking alcohol was associated with a significantly lower risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. In face, it was found that the more alcohol a subject consumed, the better their chances were to escape this disease. The top one quarter of regular drinkers were 50% less likely to develop the disease in comparison with the half of the population drinking the least. This effect was true for both males and females. However, it was more pronounced in subjects who already carried risk factors for the disease. Among the other factors examined, smoking has already been shown to increase the risk of rheumatoid arthritis — this was confirmed and magnified by genetic risk factors.

According to the authors, this strengthens the idea that lifestyle factors are of great importance in the development of this disease. Other researchers have also observed this connection between alcohol arthritis prevention. Additionally, this is similar to other studies linking alcohol consumption to a reduced risk of other inflammatory processes including cardiovascular disease. They note that, despite these new results, giving up smoking is still this disease’s single most effective preventative measure.

Alcohol consumption is associated with decreased risk of rheumatoid arthritis: results from two Scandinavian case-control studies
H Kallberg, S Jacobsen, C Bengtsson, M Pedersen, L Padyukov, P Garred, M Frisch, E W Karlson, L Klareskog, L Alfredsson
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Written by Anna Sophia McKenney