Alcohol Consumption May Reduce Risk of Rheumatoid Arthritis

A new study says moderate drinking may prevent the development of this painful disease.

brewery photo

Inside the Samuel Adams Brewery. Photo by Melissa Malamut

We Bostonians love our beer, and now—thanks to a recent study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH)—we have renewed incentive to crack open a couple of cold ones. Researchers have found that drinking two to four beers per week may reduce a woman’s risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis (RA) by as much as 31 percent.

In fact, women who consumed moderate amounts of any kind of alcohol were 21 percent less likely to develop RA than non-drinking women. Women who consumed moderate amounts of beer reduced their risk by an additional 10 percent.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder which can result in painful swelling, bone erosion, and joint damage. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that nearly 1.5 million Americans are affected by the disorder, the majority of whom are women.

Published in a recent issue of Arthritis and Rheumatology, the results of the BWH study stem from an analysis of the long-term drinking habits of more than 238,000 women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Studies (NHS). According to the study’s abstract:

The NHS [was] established in 1976 [and] enrolled 121,701 US female registered nurses. The NHSII began in 1989, enrolling 116,430 female nurses. Lifestyle and environmental exposures have been collected through biennial questionnaires. Alcohol consumption was assessed with a food frequency questionnaire completed every 4 years. The incident RA cases were identified using the connective tissue disease screening questionnaire and a medical record review. Separate Cox proportional hazards models were used to estimate hazard ratios (HRs) after adjusting for potential confounders in NHS and NHSII. Pooled HR from two cohorts was estimated using a DerSimonian and Laird random-effect model.

Because these results were observed in women exclusively, it is unclear whether alcohol consumption produces the same preventative effects in men.

“The results do suggest that the cumulative effect of long-term moderate alcohol exposure, not short-term alcohol consumption, may reduce the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis,” said Bing Lu, the study’s leader, in a BWH report.