ARE COCKTAILS A 1-2 PUNCH FOR RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) has no known cause or cure. In addition to crippling pain and swelling it can lead to early death. Amazingly, a recent study, the first to show the link in humans, found that regular alcohol consumption provided protection against rheumatoid arthritis and its painful effects. Non-drinkers were four times more likely to develop RA than people who drank alcohol on more than 1O days a month, according to the research published online by the UK journal rheumatology, and arthritis patients who drank regularly had less severe symptoms than non-drinkers. RA occurs when the immune system attacks the joints and alcohol apparently blunts that activity. More research is needed to determine how that process works, the researchers said.
Researchers compared 873 rheumatoid arthritis patients to 1OO4 people without RA. The participants answered a questionnaire, had X-rays and blood tests taken and had their joints examined. Those taking part in the study were asked how often they drank alcohol in the month before their inclusion in the study. “X-rays showed there was less damage to joints, blood tests showed lower levels of inflammation and there was less joint pain, swelling and disability” among drinkers, said James Maxwell, a rheumatologist at the Rotherham Foundation NHS Trust and study author. His report cited previous research using ethanol and mice which pointed to testosterone as a potential link to the inflammation-fighting effects, as levels of the hormone rose in line with increased ethanol consumption. Ethanol is the intoxicating component of alcoholic beverages. “The effects on the immune system may be influenced by testosterone, but we didn’t investigate that specifically in our patients, and we found similar effects in both men and women,” Maxwell said. The findings supported Scandinavian research published in June 2OO8 showing that alcohol consumption reduced the risk of rheumatoid arthritis by 4O to 5O percent. Maxwell suggested a further study should be done with a larger group, recording alcohol intake over a prolonged period before any recommendations could be made to doctors or patients about alcohol consumption. “This would also allow the possibility of investigating whether certain types of drink – wine, beer or spirits – would be more or less beneficial,” Maxwell said.