Friday, July 13, 2012

Alcohol can reduce risk of rheumatoid arthritis

Not all effects of alcohol are bad, as scientists recently proved by showing that it reduces the risk of asthma and improves social behaviour in a group. Now, a group of researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have shown that alcohol consumption can also reduce the risk of acquiring rheumatoid arthritis. This disease is marked by hyperactivity of the immune system, predominantly leading to damaged joints, skin and sometimes also several organs. Because it is a painful, disabling condition to which no cure is available, discovering ways to prevent it is highly necessary. The discovered effects of alcohol are therefore very welcome, albeit a bit odd.

A total of 34141 women born between 1914 and 1948 were followed during the study. First, details regarding their alcohol consumption, diet, smoking history, physical activity and education level was collected in 1987, and again in 1997. Then, the women were tracked between 2003 and 2009, during which new cases of rheumatoid arthritis were registered. By doing this, the scientists were able to perform analysis regarding alcohol consumption and link between incidence of the aforementioned disease.

Women who reported drinking around three glasses of alcohol-containing drinks per week both in 1987 and 1997, had a 52 percent decreased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis when compared to non-drinkers. It did not matter which type of alcohol-containing drink was consumed by the participants in order to obtain the risk-reducing effect: beer, wine and strong liquor all seemed to do the trick. The results were adjusted for other factors such as age, smoking and dietary habits, hopefully showing the true effect of alcohol.
Immune system
Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease caused by hyperactivity of the immune system, resulting in systemic inflammation. While joints are typically affected, the disease can spread throughout the whole body. While it may seem odd that alcohol can dampen such a disease, the scientists did propose a mechanism: according to them, it is likely that alcohol lessens the risk of acquiring rheumatoid arthritis because it lowers the immune response, making systemic inflammation less likely to happen.

It is not the first time a relationship between alcohol and rheumatoid arthritis was suggested, although these studies lacked the power to postulate any significant implications regarding the effect of alcohol consumption on this disease. The present study shows a rather clear effect of alcohol on the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, although only women were investigated. It is known that the effect of alcohol is less pronounced for men, but it remains interesting to find out what their decrease in risk would be. Nevertheless, alcohol consumption cannot be considered a medicinal treatment, because, despite positive effects, it remains unhealthy. On the other hand, moderate consumption, being three glasses per week, did seem to have a rather large effect, which means one does not have to drink much in order to decrease the risk.
A hand affected by rheumatoid arthritis.

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