Healthy Living

The Complicated Relationship Between Alcohol Consumption and Rheumatoid Arthritis

alcohol consumption and rheumatoid arthritis

The Complicated Relationship Between Alcohol Consumption and Rheumatoid Arthritis

The subject of alcohol consumption in rheumatoid arthritis patients has been a topic of heated debate between professionals and advocates in recent years.

Some studies suggest that drinking alcohol can actually lessen the severity of RA symptoms, while others claim that drinking alcohol can lead to more pain than usual.

We are going to break down some recent studies involving alcohol and RA, and try to determine the best alcohol consumption amount for RA patients.

Study: Drinking alcohol can reduce "severity" of RA

Researchers at the University of Sheffield asked two groups (one with RA and one without) to describe their drinking habits. This included the average number of drinks per week and how large the APV (alcohol per volume) levels of each drink was.

After describing their drinking habits, the RA patients filled out a questionnaire describing the severity of their symptoms and also underwent X-rays and blood tests to confirm the severity of their symptoms.

The researchers found that those who drank alcohol frequently experienced some physical benefits related to RA development. X-rays showed that compared to patients who did not drink (or only drank infrequently), RA patients that regularly consumed alcohol had less damage to their joints. Blood tests also revealed that the drinking patients had much lower levels of inflammation (which can cause pain and swelling in RA as well).

The researchers were unsure why these results were found. They hypothesized that it might be because alcohol suppresses immune system activity, which could influence RA development, especially in terms of inflammation. They also stated that it is possible that drinking alcohol could prevent the development of RA in certain patients. They did stress that this study was preliminary and more research would need to be done before they could make any concrete conclusions on the relationship between alcohol and RA.

Important note: Patients in the study did not drink more than 10 units of alcohol per week (the most common recommended amount of alcohol consumption).

A different take on the study: How alcohol could hurt RA patients

The study above does not necessarily say that RA patients should go out and drink more, but that is what some critics purported the results of the study would cause. Most medical researchers and professionals agree that those who are predisposed to RA can lessen their risk of developing it by drinking between 5-10 grams of alcohol per day (that is less than a full glass of wine or bottle of beer).

Doctors did warn, however, that consuming alcohol while already diagnosed with RA could have some serious side effects. The main problem is many of the most common antibiotics used to treat RA react poorly with alcohol. NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen or naproxen can cause stomach bleeding and ulcers when reacting to alcohol. If alcohol is consumed when taking acetaminophen, methotrexate or leflunomide (Arava), alcohol can make you more susceptible to liver damage.

Read further to learn more about the potential risks associated with alcohol consumption and rheumatoid arthritis.