Cheers to a Decreased Risk of Arthritis

Preliminary findings presented at annual meeting of the European League Against Rheumatism suggest that drinking alcohol may reduce the risk of developing several types of arthritis. The results of this study need to be interpreted with caution, however, since no cause and effect relationship was confirmed.

The case-control study evaluated the alcohol consumption habits of 997 newly-diagnosed arthritis patients and 6874 healthy controls recruited from a study examining venous thromboembolic disease. Overall, the arthritis patients exhibited approximately 70% less alcohol consumption than the controls. Between 53% and 68% of patients reported drinking alcohol, depending on the type of arthritis, while 83% of controls drank alcohol. This study included several types of arthritis — rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, reactive arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and spondyloarthropathy — and the association with alcohol consumption was consistent after adjustment for age, gender, body mass index, and smoking status.

Several previous studies have correlated alcohol consumption with a reduced risk of rheumatoid arthritis, but this new study is the first to link alcohol to other arthritic conditions. Although other research has reported a dose-response relationship between alcohol and rheumatoid arthritis, the new findings do not show the same relationship. Among these subjects, no correlation was seen between the amount or type of alcohol consumed and the development of arthritis.

Alcohol consumption has also been found to decrease the progression of rheumatoid arthritis and is associated with a negative occurrence of extraarticular manifestations of arthritis, including serositis, vasculitis, neuropathy, ocular lesions, pulmonary fibrosis, and rheumatoid nodules. Researchers hypothesize that alcohol may have a protective effect against inflammation, but alcohol consumption may also be a marker for being in good health. In effect, decreased alcohol use may be the result of, and not the cause of, the arthritis; people who do not feel well due to arthritis may not be as socially active or interested in consuming alcohol, or arthritis medications may prevent them from drinking.

But, don’t order another round just yet. The data is preliminary and no cause-and-effect was proved. Plus, the authors and other clinicians warn against encouraging drinking alcohol in an effort to decrease the development of arthritis. There are significant medical and social consequences to alcohol consumption, and any benefit in inflammatory conditions needs to be researched and considered carefully. The authors hope to expand these findings to other inflammatory conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease, to confirm the anti-inflammatory effect of alcohol.


Källberg H, Jacobsen S, Bengtsson C, Pedersen M, Padyukov L, Garred P, Frisch M, Karlson EW, Klareskog L, & Alfredsson L (2009). Alcohol consumption is associated with decreased risk of rheumatoid arthritis: results from two Scandinavian case-control studies. Annals of the rheumatic diseases, 68 (2), 222-7 PMID: 18535114

Kim SK, Park SH, Shin IH, & Choe JY (2008). Anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide antibody, smoking, alcohol consumption, and disease duration as risk factors for extraarticular manifestations in Korean patients with rheumatoid arthritis. The Journal of rheumatology, 35 (6), 995-1001 PMID: 18464311

Nissen MJ, Gabay C, Scherer A, Finckh A, & Swiss Clinical Quality Management Project in Rheumatoid Arthritis (2010). The effect of alcohol on radiographic progression in rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis and rheumatism, 62 (5), 1265-72 PMID: 20213811

Rajakulendran S, Gadsby K, & Deighton C (2008). Rheumatoid arthritis, alcohol, leflunomide and methotrexate. Can changes to the BSR guidelines for leflunomide and methotrexate on alcohol consumption be justified? Musculoskeletal care, 6 (4), 233-45 PMID: 18702106

Huidekoper AL. Abstract No. AB0179. Paper presented at: Annual Congress of the European League Against Rheumatism; June 16, 2010; Rome, Italy.

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD, is a practicing clinical pharmacist and medical writer/editor with experience in researching and preparing scientific publications, developing public relations materials, creating educational resources and presentations, and editing technical manuscripts. She is the owner of Excalibur Scientific, LLC.
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