A new study suggests that, for women, drinking moderate amounts of beer may reduce future development of rheumatoid arthritis.

If you enjoy the occasional beer, you might be reducing your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

A new study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) suggests that, for women, drinking moderate amounts of beer has a positive impact on the development of rheumatoid arthritis – the most common type of chronic arthritis caused by the immune system.

“Long-term, moderate alcohol drinking may reduce future rheumatoid arthritis development,” explains principal investigator Bing Lu, MD, DrPH, of the Division of Rheumatology, Immunology and Allergy at BWH. “The study found that moderate use of any form of alcohol reduced the risk by 21 percent, but moderate beer drinking – between two and four per week – cut women’s odds by nearly a third.”

The researchers note that alcohol is thought to have effects on both the hormonal and immunologic systems, although current knowledge on this is incomplete and conflicting.

The researchers tracked the drinking habits of 238,131 participants – all female registered nurses – in two large landmark studies from BWH, the Nurses’ Health Study and the Nurses’ Health Study II. The women answered questions about their lifestyle and health every two years. Every four years, they completed a questionnaire about their diet, including how much alcohol they drank, how often they drank and whether they drank beer, wine, or liquor.

The researchers also found that women who drank higher amounts of alcohol also tended to be smokers, but that smoking did not affect the association between alcohol and rheumatoid arthritis.

Because study participants are all female, the researchers cannot say if these findings apply to men. “We don’t know for men, but rheumatoid arthritis is primarily a woman’s disease,” says Dr. Lu.

In conclusion, Dr. Lu says, “The results do suggest that the cumulative effect of long-term moderate alcohol exposure, not short-term alcohol consumption, may reduce the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.”

The researchers stress that the benefits were only found with moderate drinking and that excessive drinking unhealthy.

– JCL

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