More Than a Drink a Day May Keep MS at Bay

Multiple sclerosis risks were lower in individuals who reported high alcohol consumption

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Drinking too much alcohol is generally considered not to be healthful. When alcohol consumption was evaluated in terms of the risks of developing multiple sclerosis, a different story emerged.

Swedish researchers have discovered that both men and women who drank high amounts of alcohol had lower risks of developing multiple sclerosis (MS) than nondrinkers.

The negative impacts of smoking were also found to be higher in nondrinkers than in those who consumed moderate to high amounts of alcohol, the study revealed.

The authors of this study suggested these findings could imply that MS patients may not have to abstain from drinking.

"Be honest with your doctor about the amount of alcohol you drink."

Anna Karin Hedstrom, MD, of the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, and colleagues evaluated how alcohol affected the risks of developing MS using two population studies.

Previous studies have looked at this association, but the results have been inconsistent.

MS attacks the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. The course of the disease varies from person to person and may include numbness in the limbs, speech and vision problems and other symptoms that may come and go or progress over time.

For this study, the investigators analyzed data from the Epidemiological Investigation of Multiple Sclerosis (EIMS) study, which involved 745 individuals with MS and 1,761 healthy controls. The average age of disease onset among EIMS study participants was 37. The research team also reviewed data from the Genes and Environment in Multiple Sclerosis (GEMS) study, which included 5,874 cases of MS and 5,246 controls, with the average age of MS onset being 33.6 years.

High alcohol consumption was defined as more than 11 standard drinks per week for women and more than 17 drinks per week for men.

In the EIMS study, Dr. Hedstrom and team found that women who reported high alcohol consumption had a 40 percent lower risk of developing MS than did nondrinking women. Men in the same study who drank high amounts of alcohol had a 50 percent lower chance of being diagnosed with MS compared to nondrinking men.

The GEMS study showed that women and men who reported high alcohol consumption had 30 percent lower risks of MS than their nondrinking counterparts.

And both studies revealed that the detrimental effects of smoking were less pronounced in drinkers than in nondrinkers.

These researchers wrote, “Alcohol consumption exhibits a dose-dependent inverse association with MS. Furthermore, alcohol consumption is associated with [lessening] of the effect of smoking.”

"Although the effect of alcohol on already established MS has not been studied herein, the data may have relevance for clinical practice since they give no support for advising persons with MS to completely refrain from alcohol," the authors concluded.

This study was published January 6 in JAMA Neurology.

The research was supported by the Swedish Medical Research Council, the Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research, the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, the AFA Foundation, the Swedish Brain Foundation and the Swedish Association for Persons With Neurological Disabilities.

Several of the authors disclosed various types of financial relationships.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 6, 2014
Last Updated:
January 8, 2014