June 18, 2010 -- Alcohol consumption appears to be associated with a reduced risk of developing several forms of arthritis, Dutch researchers reported at the 2010 Annual Meeting of the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) in Rome.
But doctors caution that people should not take up drinking in an effort to ward off rheumatologic diseases.
Previous studies have suggested that alcohol consumption is associated with a reduced risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, but the new research extends that finding to several other arthritic conditions, including osteoarthritis, reactive arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and spondyloarthropathy, said researcher Diane van der Woude, MD, a resident in internal medicine at Leiden University Medical Center.
Spondyloarthropathies are a family of long-term (chronic) diseases of joints that usually involve the attachments between your spine and the pelvis.
Reactive arthritis, associated with an infection, is a form of arthritis that, in addition to joints, affects many other areas of the body, including the eyes, urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body), and skin.
Psoriasis is often associated with psoriatic arthritis, which leads to pain and swelling in the joints.
Drinkers Less Likely to Develop Arthritis
The new study involved 997 patients with rheumatoid arthritis, reactive arthritis, spondyloarthropathy, or psoriatic arthritis who were enrolled in the Leiden Early Arthritis Cohort.
They were compared with 6,874 healthy people recruited from another study that was assessing the risk factors for blood clots in the legs.
People in both groups were asked at the start of the study if they drank alcohol and how much they drank.
When compared with teetotalers, drinkers were:
* 73% less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis
* 69% less likely to develop osteoarthritis
* 66% less likely to develop spondyloarthropathy
* 62% less likely to develop psoriatic arthritis
* 73% less likely to develop reactive arthritis
The analysis took into account other risk factors for arthritis such as gender, age, body mass index, and smoking.
Arthritis and Alcohol; Interpret Findings With Caution
The study does not prove cause and effect, van der Woude stresses.
It could be that drinking might be a surrogate marker of being more physically fit, or that alcohol consumption may somehow minimize the inflammatory cascade involved in arthritic conditions, she says.
Additionally, the overall risk of developing arthritis was similar for light and heavy drinkers, but higher for moderate drinkers, van der Woude says. If there were a true protective effect, you would expect heavier drinking to be associated with a lower arthritis risk.
The researchers did not ask whether the alcohol consumed was beer, wine, or spirits.
EULAR president Paul Emery, MD, professor of rheumatology at Leeds University, in England, tells WebMD that the findings should be interpreted with caution.
"Alcohol should be consumed in moderation, with consideration for local public health recommendations. A number of social and medical problems are associated with increased consumption of alcohol; therefore any positive implications of its use must be understood within the wider health context," he says.
This study was presented at a medical conference. The findings should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.
By Charlene Laino
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD