A Bit of Beer May Lower RA Risk

Rheumatoid arthritis risk was lower in women who drank two to four beers a week

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Yes we know that drinking too much alcohol can be dangerous. But drinking smaller amounts of beer may have some health benefits for women concerned with RA.

A research group examined the link between drinking alcohol and the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritisThis research group found that women who drank moderate amounts of beer each week had a decreased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease that causes inflammation, pain and deformity in the joints. It gets worse over time and especially affects fingers, wrists, feet and ankles.

"If you drink alcohol, do so only in moderation."

This research team from the Division of Rheumatology, Immunology and Allergy at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts was led by Bing Lu, MD, DrPH.

Using data collected on 238,131 women who participated in the Nurses Health Study and Nurses Health Study II, these researchers examined the association between alcohol consumption and the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Two studies were conducted over 20 and 28 years. Every four years, the women completed a questionnaire that asked about how much alcohol they drank, how often they drank and other factors, such as their smoking habits. The women were asked whether they drank beer, wine or liquor.

The researchers categorized the amount consumed by standard portions for alcohol. A standard bottle or can of beer contains 13.2 grams of alcohol, a glass of wine contains 10.8 grams and a standard drink of liquor contains 15.1 grams.

The research team defined moderate alcohol consumption as 5.0 to 9.9 grams/day of alcohol, or three to five standard drinks per week. Women who drank less were considered to have low alcohol consumption and those who drank over 10 grams/day of alcohol, or more than five drinks a week, were considered heavy drinkers.

The researchers obtained the incidence of rheumatoid arthritis from a medical questionnaire and medical record reviews.

These researchers identified 908 cases of RA in the women who participated in these studies.

Analyzing data from women who reported drinking any type of alcohol, the researchers found that the women who drank moderate amounts of alcohol had a 22 percent lower chance of developing RA than women who did not drink any alcohol.

Women who drank two to four beers a week had a 31 percent decreased risk of developing RA compared to women who never drank beer. Drinking wine or liquor lowered the risk of RA as well, but this decrease was not statistically significant.

Women who drank higher amounts of alcohol tended also to be smokers, but smoking did not affect the association between alcohol and RA in these women.

Several limitations of the study were noted by the authors. The definition of RA used by the researchers may have been too strict and eliminated some patients from being included in the study analysis. Additionally, alcohol consumption could only be obtained from the questionnaire results and may not have been completely accurate. The small number of women reporting heavy alcohol consumption did not allow the researchers to examine the effect of this level of drinking on RA.

The authors of the published research could not explain the reason why moderate alcohol consumption might be associated with a decreased risk of developing RA.

"Alcohol is thought to have effects on both the hormonal and immunologic systems, although the current knowledge is incomplete and often conflicting," they wrote.

These authors wrote that their results "... suggest that the cumulative effect of long-term moderate alcohol exposure, not short-term alcohol consumption may reduce the risk of developing RA."

This research was published in the April issue of Arthritis and Rheumatism.

Grants from the National Health Institute provided funding for the study.

The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
April 22, 2014
Last Updated:
December 27, 2014