Scientists do not fully understand the relationship between multiple sclerosis (MS) and alcohol. Although alcohol may temporarily worsen some symptoms of the condition, it might also calm an overactive immune system.

MS is a condition that disrupts communication between the brain and other parts of the body. The symptoms can range from mildly disabling to severe.

This article looks at various alcoholic beverages and the effects that alcohol can have on the symptoms of MS.

It also examines how alcohol may interact with MS medications and discusses the possible effects of other beverages, including coffee and water, on the condition’s symptoms.

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Researchers have not extensively studied the effect of alcohol on MS symptoms.

Results of the limited studies are neither conclusive nor consistent, as they show both positive and negative associations. This was the conclusion of a review of 30 papers published between 1983 and 2016.

The authors noted that some scientists consider alcohol a risk factor for MS but that others contend that consuming small amounts offered some protection against developing the condition.

The review concluded by noting that more studies are necessary to confirm the relationship between MS and alcohol and to determine if any amount of alcohol is recommendable.

Alcohol is an intoxicant that is present in beer, spirits, and wine. It is also a depressant through its interactions with the brain.

Alcohol content varies among beverage types. However, the amount of liquid in a glass does not indicate the amount of alcohol it contains.

The table below shows how the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) lists beverage types and their alcohol content:

Amount of beverageType of beverageAlcohol percentage
12 ounces (oz)regular beerabout 5%
12 ozsome light beersabout 4.2%
5 ozwineabout 12%
8–9 ozmalt liquorabout 7%
1.5 ozdistilled spirits, such as brandy, vodka, or rumabout 40%

Alcohol may affect people with and without MS differently. The sections below look at some potential negative effects of alcohol on MS.

Worsened MS symptoms

One alcoholic serving may result in a temporary worsening of coordination and balance issues for a person with MS.

Alcohol may also increase urinary urgency and frequency, which are frequent complaints in people with MS, according to one study.

Depression

Another negative effect involves alcohol’s depressive effect on the brain and spinal cord. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, depression is common in MS.

Interactions with medication

Many medications can interact adversely with alcohol, according to the NIAAA. Some examples of adverse interactions include the following:

  • Alcohol’s sedative effects can increase the impact of tranquilizers, opioids, and muscle relaxants.
  • Alcohol can lead to drowsiness, dizziness, difficulty breathing, and a higher risk of overdose.
  • Alcohol can increase the risk of bleeding from the stomach and intestines associated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) use.
  • When a person uses alcohol alongside anticonvulsants, such as phenytoin (Dilantin), it may increase the risk of seizures and cause unusual mental health changes.
  • Alcohol can increase the risk of liver damage from acetaminophen (Tylenol).
  • When a person uses alcohol alongside antidepressants, it may increase feelings of depression and hopelessness.
  • Over-the-counter drugs and dietary supplements can interact negatively with alcohol. For instance, alcohol can increase the potentially drowsy effect of chamomile and valerian.

Some medications for treating certain symptoms of MS include the following:

  • muscle relaxants
  • antidepressants
  • anti-inflammatory agents, such as NSAIDs
  • non-narcotic pain drugs
  • opioids

The sections below look at some potential positive effects of alcohol on MS.

Suppressed immune response

MS is a chronic inflammatory condition. Scientists believe that an overactive immune system is what causes the condition. Because of this, MS therapies often aim to suppress the immune response.

Some research looked into whether or not alcohol could suppress the immune response to relieve MS symptoms. The authors discovered that although regular alcohol intake suppressed one aspect of immunity, it increased another aspect.

Due to a lack of conclusive evidence, they concluded that it was not possible to recommend a therapeutic dosage or frequency of alcohol for consumption in MS.

Neuroprotection

Some research explored the neuroprotective effects of alcohol on MS. In this instance, neuroprotection refers to the capacity of alcohol to reduce MS symptoms due to the suppression of the immune system.

The authors found that people with higher alcohol and wine intakes had lower MS disability scores, which indicated less neurological disability.

On the other hand, they noted that these individuals had higher accumulations of a harmful substance in the brain that may be associated with the progression of MS.

Reduced effects of smoking

One study found that alcohol consumption may reduce the harmful effects of smoking. Because of this action, the authors said that their findings did not support advising people with MS to avoid alcohol consumption altogether.

Instead of drinking beer or other alcoholic beverages, a person with MS may wish to consume other beverages that may be healthier. The sections below will look at some of these in more detail.

Water

According to the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation (MSF), it is important for people with MS to stay hydrated.

If a person drinks sufficient fluids for their body’s needs, their urine will generally be pale yellow or colorless. Darker urine is a symptom of inadequate fluid intake.

Water is a healthy beverage, and it offers various benefits for a person with MS, including:

  • reducing some bladder and bowel symptoms
  • decreasing the side effects of medications
  • lowering injection site reactions
  • preventing the effects of dehydration on MS, such as fatigue and mental decline

Coffee

One study indicated that people who have MS do not need to avoid coffee. After reviewing the body of research on this topic, the authors found that a higher intake of coffee and caffeine seemed to have a protective effect against MS.

The MSF notes that coffee has properties that fight inflammation and stimulate the nervous system. These effects may be helpful in conditions involving the nervous system, such as MS.

Green tea

Green tea can be beneficial for a person with MS.

The International Multiple Sclerosis Management Practice explains that green tea contains a powerful antioxidant. The beverage also has compounds with properties that protect the nervous system and calm an overactive immune system.

There is insufficient research to confirm the positives and negatives of alcohol consumption in MS.

Some research suggests that alcohol consumption may temporarily worsen MS symptoms such as balance problems and urinary urgency. Due to alcohol’s effect on the brain and nervous system, it may also worsen the depression that many people with MS experience.

Although some studies indicate that smaller amounts of alcohol could be associated with less severe MS, it is not yet clear whether or not there is a causal relationship.

For this reason, a person with the condition may wish to focus on drinking healthier beverages, such as water, coffee, and green tea.