WEDNESDAY, July 28 (HealthDay News) -- Drinking alcohol may help keep rheumatoid arthritis at bay, possibly because it dampens the body's immune response, new research suggests.
Alcohol consumption may also protect people who already have the autoimmune disease from developing a more debilitating form.
"This actually isn't a new concept. There have been other articles [stating] that alcohol might be protective," said Dr. Guy Fiocco, assistant professor of internal medicine at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and director of rheumatology at Scott & White in Temple, Texas. "[But] I don't think we're going to be advocating alcohol to prevent rheumatoid arthritis."
Nor do the study authors advise drinking as a cure for arthritis. "We would wish to point out that, at the moment, that our findings are preliminary, and would not recommend that patients drink alcohol with the specific purpose of treating their arthritis," said Dr. James Maxwell, lead author of the study and a consultant rheumatologist at The Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust in England.
"We would also remind patients to observe recommended government limits for alcohol consumption," he added.
According to background information in the study, published online July 28 in Rheumatology, previous studies were mostly conducted in mice. The benefit of ethanol exposure for these rodents seemed to be due to higher levels of testosterone, the researchers wrote.
For this study, the authors compared 1,004 healthy participants to 873 people with rheumatoid arthritis. Both of those groups were divided into four groups: nondrinkers, those who drank 1 to 5 days a month, the ones who drank 6 to 10 days a month, and those who drank more frequently.
"We found that arthritis was progressively less severe as alcohol frequency increased, with a definite difference compared to non
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