Does alcohol treat rheumatoid arthritis?

Image source: Andre Karwath
Rheumatoid arthritis is a degenerative joint condition resulting in pain and disability from an autoimmune inflammatory process. Alcohol is thought to act as an anti-inflammatory. Studies have been somewhat contradictory about the effect of alcohol on rheumatoid arthritis, though a few recent studies have shown promise for the home remedy. 
  • A 2008 study from Sweden and Denmark on 2700 men and women showed that moderate alcohol consumption (1-4 drinks per week) may reduce the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis by roughly 20%. 
  • A 2010 study published in the journal Rheumatology looked at alcohol consumption and symptom severity in more than 850 patients with rheumatoid arthritis, comparing them to more than 1000 people without the disease. Those who consumed alcohol more frequently had lower levels of inflammation, joint pain, and disability than those who drank less frequently. 
The 2010 study was the first dose-dependent relationship shown for these variables in humans. The researchers also found that non-drinkers were four times more likely to develop the disease than drinkers.

These studies would indicate that patients with rheumatoid arthritis could benefit from moderate alcohol consumption. However, alcohol and RA medications do not mix.
  • RA patients usually take methotrexate to slow the progression of the disease. The drug is already associated with liver cirrhosis, which may be due to alcohol consumption by those taking it. 
  • RA patients also take NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), such as naproxen, aspirin, and ibuprofen, to handle the pain and swelling, which can cause stomach and intestinal bleeding when consumed with alcohol. 
  • In addition, some patients are treated with prednisone, a steroid, to treat the symptoms of the disease. This drug also reacts adversely with alcohol in the form of stomach and liver irritation.

Overall, the studies regarding alcohol will not benefit those who are already controlling their rheumatoid arthritis with pharmaceutical therapy, and consuming alcohol to prevent the disorder may exacerbate other conditions. Much more work is needed to fully understand the risks, benefits, and mechanisms seen in the studied populations.

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