Moderate consumption of alcohol may reduce the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, according to a new study.
Women who regularly consume more than three alcoholic drinks a week for at least 10 years have about half the risk of developing arthritis compared with non-drinkers, according to a study of 34,141 Swedish women by the Stockholm-based Karolinska Institute. The reduced risk was consistent whether the participants drank beer, wine or liquor.
The results, published yesterday in the British Medical Journal, add to other studies that have observed positive effects of moderate drinking. Men who have two drinks a day after surviving a first heart attack have a lower risk of death from heart disease than non-drinkers, Harvard researchers said this year.
"These results are in accordance with the inverse association between moderate alcohol consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease and add to the evidence that moderate alcohol consumption is not harmful," the Swedish study authors, including Alicja Wolk and Daniela Di Giuseppe, wrote in their report.
The researchers collected detailed information about the study participants' drinking, diet, smoking history, physical activity and education level in 1987 and again in 2007. The subjects, born between 1914 and 1948, were tracked for seven years from 2003 through 2009.
The effect on risk of arthritis may be explained by alcohol's ability to lower the body's immune response, as rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the cells that line the joints, the authors said.
The researchers said they weren't able to evaluate the effect of high doses of alcohol on risk of arthritis because of the lack of heavy drinking participants.
The study was also supported by the Swedish Research Council, in addition to the Karolinska Institute.