Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Alcohol & Rheumatoid Arthritis

Health advisors often have differing views on alcohol. Is it a healthy drink to help avoid heart disease or is it an insidious and evil beverage that causes social turmoil? I agree with the words of Abraham Lincoln, or maybe his speech writer, who said: “It has long been recognised that the problems with alcohol relate not to the use of a bad thing, but to the abuse of a good thing.” Well, it was more interesting than saying “drink in moderation”.

1-2% population affected by RA

From UK researchers comes further indication that the occasional drink can be helpful and healthful. As alcohol has anti-inflammatory and a mild analgesic effect, they proposed that rheumatoid arthritis (RA) might be less likely or less severe in people who drank alcohol.

According to this [http://www.aihw.gov.au/publications/phe/phe-110-10524/phe-110-10524.pdf booklet] from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks its own organs and joints, especially the joints on the knees, wrists, fingers and elbows. This debilitating condition affects around 400,000 Australians (about 1 in 50 people). It is more common in ladies and older folk.

Don’t smoke; drink frequently

The research compared 873 Caucasians with RA to 1004 without the condition, all from around Sheffield in England. Each one underwent clinical and radiological assessment as well as completing a survey. Those with RA were more likely to be older, smoke and female when compared to the control group. The more frequently someone drank, the less likely they were to have RA, and the less severe were the symptoms if they had RA.

Dr James Maxwell, the lead author of the paper, said: “Patients who had drunk alcohol most frequently had symptoms that were less severe than those who had never drunk alcohol or only drunk it infrequently. 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”.

What does it all mean?

Note that only frequency of alcohol consumption was measured, not the amount of alcohol, and alcohol consumption was based on a questionnaire, always a problem as humans have lousy memories and like to give socially acceptable answers. Despite this, the protective effect of alcohol against RA was pretty persuasive and cannot be ignored. Like all good researchers, they did say: “Further research is needed to confirm the results.” If they are confirmed, health authorities will hope that only 1, maybe 2, standard drinks does the trick, because then we can keep giving out the same advice as we always do.

Reference: Rheumatology. 2010; doi:10.1093/rheumatology/keq202

No comments: