Moderate Alcohol Consumption May Lower Rheumatoid Arthritis Risk: Study

The health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption have been highlighted in numerous studies, from improving quality of life to reducing the risk of certain cancers. And now, a new study suggests it could lower the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

The research, conducted by Karolinska Institute researchers, shows that over a 10-year period, women who consume at least three alcoholic drinks a week have a halved risk of developing the condition.

Researchers speculated that the effect may come from alcohol's immune-lowering effects (since rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease). Approximately 1.5 million adults in the U.S. are currently living with rheumatoid arthritis, according to Centers for Disease Control statistics; the condition causes joint swelling that could eventually raise the risk of osteoporosis and bone loss.

The research, which is published online in the British Medical Journal, included 34,141 Swedish women whose health information was recorded in 1987 and 1997. Then, researchers followed up again with the women between 2003 and 2009 to find that 197 of them had developed rheumatoid arthritis.

After taking into account other factors like age, diet and smoking, the researchers found that people who reported drinking more than three alcoholic beverages a week -- where a single beverage is defined as 500 milliliters of beer, 150 milliliters of wine or 50 milliliters of liquor -- had a 52 percent lower rheumatoid arthritis risk, compared with people who never drank.

Researchers did not find a difference in lowered risk based on the kinds of alcohol the people drank.

But keep in mind that the people in this study drank alcohol at moderate levels, and did not over do it -- chronically drinking too much has been linked with high blood pressure, certain cancers, heart problems and cirrhosis of the liver, according to the New York City Department of Health.

Similarly, a small new study from Oregon State University researchers found that moderate alcohol consumption is linked with a lower risk of osteoporosis in women. That study, which was published in the journal Menopause, included 40 women who all drank about one or two drinks a day, for several times a week. The researchers monitored the amount of "bone turnover" -- which is a known risk factor for broken bones due to osteoporosis -- they had when they stopped drinking.

They found that when the study participants stopped drinking for two weeks, they had more bone turnover; but when they started their regular drinking habits again, the bone turnover rate went back to normal fewer than 24 hours later.

“Drinking moderately as part of a healthy lifestyle that includes a good diet and exercise may be beneficial for bone health, especially in postmenopausal women,” study researcher Urszula Iwaniec, associate professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU, said in a statement. “After less than 24 hours to see such a measurable effect was really unexpected."

Generally, moderate alcohol consumption is defined as having no more than two drinks per day for men, and no more than one drink per day for women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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